Liturgy and Sacraments

Table of Contents


The Mass, the celebration of the other sacraments, and some forms of community prayer are referred to as liturgy. Liturgy is very much a church word and so its meaning is not easy to grasp since we do not use it in our everyday speech. The word ‘liturgy’ comes from a Greek word. It was the word used to describe public work, or public service done by the people. It referred to those works which were performed for the common good of the community at large. The Greek speaking Christians took this word up and applied it to one of the centrally important works of the Church: communal worship of God, and the celebration of the sacraments for the sanctification of the people of God.

There are different forms of prayer: individual; communal; liturgical. Individual prayer and communal prayer are important in our life, and so we need to develop them as part of our regular life pattern. We need to develop the habit of prayer. Liturgical prayer is more than individual and communal prayer. Individual and communal prayer move us towards entering more fully into liturgical prayer.

Liturgy is ‘the full public worship performed by the Mystical Body of Jesus Christ, that is, by the Head and His members’ (SC 7). Liturgy is the public prayer of the Church. When we come together to celebrate the liturgy, usually a Mass, but perhaps a wedding, baptism, a funeral, etc., we know that in the mystery of the Church, Jesus Christ is in a special way present with us, and mediating with the Father for us.

Central to the Christian faith, and so central to the liturgy, is the paschal mystery of Jesus Christ (his death, resurrection, and ascension). This is what we celebrate within the liturgy, the saving effects of Jesus Christ through the paschal mystery. This only makes sense if there exists no divorce between the rest of our life and when we come together as a community for public worship of God. It is through the liturgy that the paschal mystery of Jesus Christ is made present to us in a particular way. The death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus has significance for each one of us now in our practical living.

Through the liturgy we are called to celebrate what God is achieving in both our personal and communal history. For this reason, we celebrate our life stages and significant moments of our life’s journey with liturgies: birth ‑ baptism; vocation ‑ marriage/religious life/priesthood; forgiveness of sin ‑ penance (confession); sickness ‑ anointing of the sick; death ‑ funerals. Through the Mass we celebrate regularly the reality of God working in our history. Through the Divine Office we bring God into the regularity of our daily life and immerse our life into the daily life of the yearly cycle of the Church in celebrating the various seasons: ordinary time, Advent, Christmastide, Lent, Eastertide and so forth.


Jesus began his public ministry by proclaiming, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is close at hand. Repent, and believe the gospel” (Mk.1:15). To enter into the kingdom of God was to enter into salvation. Through the event of the paschal mystery (death, resurrection, glorification, sending of the Spirit) the kingdom of God erupted into our midst. Jesus in fact had become the kingdom of God. The proclaimer becomes the proclaimed.

The disciples went forth with their hearts transformed and set on fire by the Spirit, proclaiming that salvation was in Jesus Christ alone: “Only in him is there salvation” (Acts 4:12). These words of salvation were proclaimed by the disciples. Those to whom the gift of faith was given believed on the words of the disciples and opened their hearts to the Spirit so that their hearts were converted and they believed in Jesus as Lord. In the Acts of the Apostles, we find that conversion to the Lord Jesus is immediately followed by baptism. This baptism marked the total conversion which had occurred in the person’s life.

It would seem from the evidence of Luke in Acts that there was little preparation and little ritual attached to baptism at the earliest stage of the missionary endeavours of the church, cf. the baptism of the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8:26‑39), the family of Cornelius (Acts 10:47‑48), Paul’s Jailer (Acts 16:30‑33). Luke’s concern is to how to show forth the power and urgency of the Spirit pushing the disciples into their missionary activity.

However, if we look at the first proclamation of the good news in the Acts of the Apostles we can discover already in this first century church document a definite outline of the normative approach of the church in initiating people into the church.

After the Pentecost event Peter stands up with the eleven and proclaims the reason for their newfound joy, cf. Acts 2:14-42. Within this event we can discover two definite periods of church activity and the end of each of these periods is marked by two thresholds of the response of the hearer.

The first period is the essential proclamation of the word by the community, cf. Acts 2:14-36.

The first threshold is the first response to this gift of God which is the opening of the hearers heart to the Word so that the first conversion takes place which allows the taking of the step into the next period in the journey towards baptism, cf. Acts 2:37, “Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart…What are we to do brothers?”

The second period is that of catechesis. This begins with a call to repentance. This period of catechesis is more than the imparting of information about the Christian message, it is also a catechesis into a christian lifestyle, cf. Acts 2:38-41.

The second threshold is that of determining if the hearers (catechumens) had applied the message to their lives. If they accepted what had been said then they were admitted to baptism, cf. Acts 2:41.

Once they had been baptised they joined in the full life of the community, and the full expression of what was in the eucharist: “These remained faithful to the teaching of the apostles, to the brotherhood, to the breaking of bread and to the prayers” Acts 2:42.

What is of note is the centrality of baptism in the early church documents. Each of the synoptic gospels has Jesus begin his proclaiming of the good news of salvation with baptism (Mk. 1:1ff; Mt. 3:1ff; Lk. 3:1ff) and finish with the proclamation of a new baptism (Mk. 16:16ff; Mt. 28:19; Luke in Acts 1:5). John also fits into this pattern even with his very different approach with his gospel, cf. Jn 1:24-34 in which the new baptism is proclaimed by John the baptiser.

Looking at further church documents, other than scripture, we see evidence of a developing pattern of preparation for christian initiation. For example, in the Didache, which is almost contemporary to the latter New Testament writings, we find that a period of fasting has already become institutional in the preparation for baptism:

Concerning baptism, baptize in this way, having first rehearsed all these things, baptize in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, in living water. But if you have not living water, baptize into other water; and, if thou canst not in cold, in warm. If you have neither, pour water thrice on the head in the name etc… Before the baptism let the baptizer and baptised fast, and others if they can. And order the baptized to fast one or two days before…

By around the year 200 a definite ritual had developed for the actual Baptismal Period (a few days of immediate preparation for baptism). Searle in Christening, (Liturgical Press: Minesota, 1980), summarises Tertullian’s account of this ritual:

In North Africa, the priest Tertullian was writing his treatise On Baptism. From this and scattered references in his other writings, we get glimpses of a much more developed ritual. The minister of baptism is the bishop, or priests and deacons delegated by him (c. 17). The water used for baptism is blessed (c. 4). The candidates prepare for the sacrament by prayer, fasting and night vigils, as well as some form of confession of sins (c. 20). Initiation is preferably, but not exclusively given at Easter or during the Easter season (c. 19). A public renunciation of Satan is made before the baptism, and again in the course of the baptism itself. The candidates stand in the water, renounce Satan and profess their faith in Christ, and are submerged three times in the names of the Trinity. Coming up out of the water, they are anointed, and “next follows the imposition of the hand in benediction, inviting and welcoming the Holy Spirit” (c. 8). (p. 5)

In his work On the Resurrection of the Flesh, Tertullian names the now developed steps of initiation:

The flesh is washed that the soul may be made spotless: the flesh is anointed that the soul may be consecrated: the flesh is signed [with the cross] that the soul too may be protected: the flesh is overshadowed by the imposition of the hand that the soul also may be illumined by the Spirit: the flesh feeds on the Body and Blood of Christ so that the soul as well may be replete with God (c. 8; Whitaker, p. 10).

By the beginning of the third century we can see that entry into salvation, that personal encounter with the risen Jesus, is entered into within the saving worship of the church, marked out be a definite, though not static, liturgical ritual. This will develop even further during the third century into the Catechumenate, which will extend over a long period of up to three years in length, culminating in the Paschal Tridium.


The sacraments were never conferred lightly. We see from scripture that the early church demanded evidence of a christian lifestyle of its deacons (Acts 6:2-6; 1Tim 3:8-10), preachers (Acts 9:26-28), and of its bishops (1Tim 3:2-7). The same was for admission to baptism. On this point Tertullian writes:

Let those whose function it is know that baptism may not be granted lightly. ‘Give to anyone who asks of you’ envisages alms in the strict sense. [For baptism], you must instead take into account this: ‘Do not give to dogs what is holy and do not throw your pearls before swine’ and: ‘Do not lay on hands hastily and do not be an accomplice to another man’s sins’ [1Tim. 5:22] (De Bapt. 18,1).

Evangelisation and the Precatechumenate

The third century is described as the golden age of Christian initiation. Christian initiation began with evangelisation. Those involved in evangelisation were the entire Christian community. The journey towards initiation began when the message of good news was really heard for the first time. This took place not within a Christian gathering but within the family, neighbourhood, in the workplace, ect. Origen of Alexandria describes this: ‘The Christians began by testing the souls of those who would listen to them, and then took them aside privately for instruction’ (Against Celsus, III,51,2), If the hearer opened their heart to the Word then the first conversion had begun. The person involved with proclaiming the Word to the person was the likely one to become that person’s sponsor.

Yet the person was not yet admitted to the assembly. The Church first demanded of them evidence of a change in lifestyle as a result of their initial encounter with the risen Christ (the proclaimer of the Word could thus be described as a sacrament). Origen states this as: ‘before they are allowed to join with the community, they must give sufficient evidence of their desire to live a virtuous life’ (A.C. III,51,3). This could involve a demand for a radical change in lifestyle:

‘They shall inquire about the crafts and occupations of those who are brought for instruction. If a man be a pander who supports harlots either let him desist or let him be rejected. If a man be a sculptor or a painter, he shall be taught not to make idols. If he will not desist, let him be rejected. If a man be an actor or one who makes shows in the theatre, either let him desist or let him be rejected’ (Hippolytus, Apostolic Tradition).

The list continues for teachers, charioteers, gladiators, etc. There was a great seriousness with which the community judged the worthiness of the person seeking initiation. The Church basically demanded evidence of a real conversion and since it could not see into a person’s heart, it demanded evidence on the external forum. The length of time the inquirer would spend in this stage was unlimited. (The stage is referred to in the RCIA [Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults] as the precatechumenate).

Entrance into the Church: The Catechumenal Journey

Once the first period had occurred, that of the proclamation of the Word by the community, cf. Acts 2:14-36, and the first threshold had occurred, that of the initial conversion of the inquirer, cf. Acts 2:37, then the person, if judged suitable by the community entered into the second period, that of catechesis. This was the person’s entrance into the church. This significant moment in the person’s life was marked and celebrated in a liturgical rite. In fact, the catechumenal journey becomes a continuum of liturgical rites.

The enquirers for the first time encounter the assembled Christian community. Here the inquirers are examined closely to discern their readiness to enter the church and so be able to listen to the Word. The examination consisted of a dialogue between the church officials, the enquirers, and their sponsors. Then the enquirers are given a basic catechesis on the fundamentals of the Christian faith and Christian lifestyle. They are then asked if they can give assent to this. If the answer is ‘yes’ then a powerful sacramental action is carried out upon them. They each have the sign of the cross marked upon their forehead. ‘Anyone who does not take his cross and follow in my footsteps is not worthy of me’ (Mt 10:38).

These people have heard the Word and opened their hearts to the Word because in this they have discovered a sure hope and promise, even to the extent that they have willingly had their lifestyles and beliefs changed. They come before the community, each with his or her own cross, each having in their own personal history their own suffering, and their greatest form of suffering being their own sin residing in their hearts. They present themselves before the community and the community marks upon them the sign of the cross:

Upon the forehead we bear his sign; and we do not blush because of it, we also bear it in the heart…Now the sick confess that they are sick; let the physician come to heal the sick. Who is the physician? Our Lord Jesus Christ….for the cross was taken not as a proof of power, but as an example of patience. There he cured thy wounds, where he long bore his own; their he healed thee of death eternal, where he vouchsafed to die the temporal death. And did he die, or in him did death die? What a death was that, which slew death! (Augustine, On the Gospel of St. John, Tractate III,2,3).

[It is to be noted that Augustine is a sixth century writer].

Through the saving cross of Christ becoming a living reality in their daily living the catechumens begin their journey of having the promise and hope of the gospel fulfilled in their life.

By this signification the enquirers are now accepted as candidates for baptism. Through the signing of the cross they are now called ‘Christians’ and they begin their next stage of conversion. They have now begun a journey of faith and conversion within the church. They have been welcomed into being a member of the assembly. Augustine describes this journey as one from darkness to light. With the signing of the cross they become servants but have yet to become sons and daughters:

Now Jesus trust himself to them, and they come to Jesus, not by night, like Nicodemus; not in darkness do they seek the day. For such now also profess: Jesus has come near to them, has made salvation in them; for he said, ‘Except a man eat my flesh, and drink my blood, he shall not have life in him’. And as the catechumens have the sign of the cross on their forehead, they are already of the great house; but from servants let them become sons. For they are something who already belong to the great house. But when did the people Israel eat the manna? (Augustine, On the Gospels, Tractate XI,4).

This journey of faith and conversion was described under two main images by the early Fathers. Origen uses the image of the Exodus, which is carried on by Augustine, as can be seen from the above quote. The other main image was that of the gestation period of an infant in its mother’s womb. This rite of entrance into the church is a type of conception, the catechumen is implanted into the womb of the church. A necessary period of gestation then follows until the infant is formed sufficiently to come forth in the new birth of baptism.

The Catechumenate

In the Apostolic Tradition (18,19) Hippolytus of Rome (170-235) gives the following description of the rites accompanying the actual catechesis:

When the teacher has finished the catechesis, the catechumens pray by themselves, apart from the faithful. The women, whether they be catechumens or faithful, pray in a separate place. When the catechumens have finished praying, they do not give one another the kiss of peace, for their kiss is not yet holy. The faithful greet each other, the men greet the men, and the women greeting the other women. But the men do not greet the women. The women all cover their heads with a pallium, not just with a linen cloth since this would not be sufficient enough to veil them.

When the prayer is finished, the teacher imposes hands over the catechumens and then dismisses them. The teacher, whether he be a cleric or a layman, should do this!

It is probable that this is the first section of the Eucharist. There is other historical evidence to suggest that catechesis also took place on weekdays early in the morning. This was basically a liturgy of the Word.

The catechesis was integral. It was not simply a classroom learning exercise. It was a catechesis embracing the whole person. It was a catechesis into gospel living. There was a balanced continuum of learning, worship, and formation into the Christian lifestyle. Four necessary and complementary aspects of formation can be discerned to be at work in the catechumenate:

  1. Catechesis.
  2. Actual lived experience of the Christian way of life.
  3. Liturgical rites.
  4. An expected growing concern for serving the underprivileged.

The Rite of Election

The second period leads into the second threshold, that of the church determining if the catechumen is responding to the call by God to receive the sacraments of initiation. The community now discerns if the catechumens have applied the message of the gospel to their lives. If there is evidence of progressive conversion, then the church calls the person to the reception of the sacraments.

Hippolytus in the Apostolic Tradition (20) describes this election:

When selecting those who are to be baptised, the life of the candidates is to be closely examined: Have they lived honestly while they were catechumens? Have they honoured the widows? Have they visited the sick? Have they done all sorts of good works? If those who lead them to the church testify for each one, saying they acted thus, then they will hear the Gospel.

The importance of the role of sponsor is to be noted. This was no mere examination of Christian doctrine. This was an examination of the integrity of the person in their being formed according to the gospel. If chosen, the catechumens are then referred to as the ‘elect’ or the ‘chosen ones’, those chosen by God through the discernment of the community. They then enter into immediate and intense preparation for baptism.

The Scrutinies

One important aspect of this intense preparation for baptism were the scrutinies. At the time of Hippolytus this immediate preparation for baptism lasted for a week. (In the future centuries, as the period of the catechumenate stage was shortened, this period of immediate preparation for baptism was lengthened, thus developing into the forty days of Lent).

In the Apostolic Tradition (20), Hippolytus describes the scrutinies as follows:

3. Moreover, from the day they are chosen, let a hand be laid on them and let them be exorcised daily. And when the day draws near on which they are to be baptised, let the bishop himself exorcise each one of them, that he may be certain that he is purified.4. But if there is one who is not purified let him be put on one side because he did not hear the word of instruction with faith. For the strange spirit remained with him.5. And let those who are to be baptised be instructed to wash and cleanse themselves on the fifth day of the week [i.e., Thursday]. 6. And if any woman be menstrous she shall be put aside and baptised another day. 7. Those who are to receive baptism shall fast on the Preparation [Friday] and on the Sabbath [Saturday]. And on the Sabbath the bishop shall assemble those who are to be baptised in one place, and shall bid them all to pray and bow the knee. 8. And laying his hand on them he shall exorcise every evil spirit to flee away from them and never to return to them henceforward. And when he has finished exorcising, let him breathe on their faces and seal their foreheads and ears and noses and then let him raise them up. 9. And they shall spend the night in vigil, reading the scriptures to them and instructing them. 10. Moreover those who are to be baptised shall not bring any other vessel, save that which each will bring with him for the Eucharist. For it is right for everyone to bring his oblation then.

The scrutinies were a complex of liturgical actions consisting of prayers, exorcisms, anointings, renunciations of Satan, and fasting. They are not an examination of the candidates’ doctrinal knowledge, as they latter developed into.

The RCIA states the purpose of the scrutinies: ‘The scrutinies…have a two‑fold purpose: revealing anything that is weak, defective, or sinful in the hearts of the elect, so that it may be healed; and revealing what is upright, strong, and holy, so that it may be strengthened. The scrutinies are intended to free them from sin and the devil and to give them strength in Christ, who is the way, the truth, and the life for his chosen ones’ (25,1).

So that the labour not be in vain and the infant be stillborn, the community assists the ‘elect’ in this decisive time of conversion of their heart in preparation for baptism. The community is very actively involved in the scrutinies. They are carried out within liturgical settings. Through the liturgy the ‘elect’ strongly encounter God. The Spirit, through the community, converts their hearts ever more closely to the gospel. The Fathers describe this time under the images of the refining of gold, the putting of a house in order, the pleading of a case, and the combat in the arena.

The Celebration of Baptism Within the Celebration of the Paschal Mystery

In the third century, there had not yet developed the celebration of forty days of Lent, Holy Week, the Sacred Triduum, Eastertide, and Pentecost fifty days later. The church celebrated the paschal mystery in one long liturgy beginning on the vigil of the day. The two days previous were days of fast in preparation for this central celebration, cf. above AT, 20,7).

The community gathered to remember and to celebrate the death, resurrection, and glorification of Jesus, and his sending forth of the Spirit. They gathered not to reminisce about the good things God had done in Jesus, but rather, they gathered to celebrate what God was doing in their midst at this very moment of their salvation history. The power of God was visibly present to them in one particular way through the candidates for baptism. Here the community had witness that the grace of God was powerfully operative in converting the hearts of his chosen people. The whole community shared in this great moment, and encountered the living God in the great liturgy of the church.

In the Apostolic Tradition (20‑22), Hippolytus describes this liturgy of Christian initiation:

9. And they shall spend all the night in vigil, reading the scriptures to them and instructing them. 10. Moreover those who are to be baptised shall not bring any other vessel, save that which each will bring with him for the Eucharist. For it is right for everyone to bring his oblation… XXI 1. And at the hour when the cock crows they shall first [of all] pray over the water. 2. When they come to the water, let the water be pure and flowing. 3. And they shall put off their clothes. 4. And they shall baptise the little children first. And if they can answer for themselves, let them answer. But if they cannot, let their parents answer or someone from their family. 5. And next shall baptise the grown men; and last the women, who shall have loosed their hair and laid aside their gold ornaments. Let no one go down to the water having any alien object with them. 6. And at the time determined for baptising, the bishop shall give thanks over the oil and put it into a vessel and it is called the Oil of Thanksgiving. 7. And he shall take other oil and exorcise over it, and it is called the Oil of Exorcism. 8. And let a deacon carry the Oil of Exorcism and stand on the left hand. And another deacon shall take the Oil of Thanksgiving and stand on the right hand. 9. And when the presbyter takes hold of each one of those who are to be baptised, let him bid him renounce saying: I renounce you Satan, and all thy service and all they works. 10. And when he has said this let him anoint with the Oil of Exorcism, saying: Let all evil spirits depart far from thee. 11. Then after these things let him give over to the presbyter who stands at the water. And let them stand in the water naked. And let a deacon likewise go down with him into the water. 12. And when he goes down to the water, let him who baptises lay hand on him saying thus: Dost thou believe in God the Father Almighty? 13. And he who is being baptised shall say: I believe. 14. Let him forthwith baptise him once, having his hand laid upon his head. 15. And after [this] let him say: Dost thou believe in Christ Jesus, the Son of God, Who was born of Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary, Who was crucified in the days of Pontius Pilate, And died, And rose the third day living from the dead And ascended into the heavens, And sat down at the right hand of the Father, And will come to judge the living and the dead? 16. And when he says: I believe, let him baptise him the second time. 17. And again let him say: Dost thou believe in the Holy Spirit in the Holy Church, And the resurrection of the flesh? 18. And he who is being baptised shall say: I believe, And so let him baptise him the third time. 19. And afterwards when he comes up he shall be anointed with the Oil of Thanksgiving saying: I anoint thee with holy oil in the Name of Jesus Christ. 20. And so each one drying himself they shall now put in their clothes, and after this let them be together in the assembly. XXIII. And the bishop shall lay his hand upon them invoking and saying: O Lord God, who didst count these worthy of deserving the forgiveness of sins by the laver of regeneration, make them worthy to be filled with thy Holy Spirit and send upon them they grace, that they may serve thee according to thy will; to thee is the glory, to the Father and to the Son with the Holy Ghost in the holy Church, both now and ever and world without end. Amen. 2. After this pouring the consecrated oil and laying his hand on his head, he shall say: I anoint thee with holy oil in God the Father Almighty and Christ Jesus and the Holy Ghost.3. And sealing him on the forehead, he shall give him the kiss of peace and say: The Lord be with you. And he who has been sealed shall say: And with thy spirit. 4. And so shall he do to each one severally. 5. Thenceforward they shall pray together with all the people. But they shall not previously pray with the faithful before they have undergone all these things.6. And after the prayers, let them give the kiss of peace.

In the following section of AT, Hippolytus goes on the describe the Eucharist which the newly initiated now participate in with the rest of the community. The Eucharist is the culminating point of Christian initiation. The Eucharist being the making present in a unique way the paschal mystery into which the neophytes (newly baptised) have been baptised.

One important dimension of the rite of initiation outlined above is that the sacrament of confirmation has not been mentioned. At this stage of the church’s history the resurrection of Jesus had not been liturgically separated from the sending forth of the Spirit (Pentecost). The church simply celebrated the entire paschal mystery within the one liturgy. This is similar to the gospel of John in which the sending forth of the Spirit occurs in the same day as the resurrection, cf. Jn 20:19-23. Whereas for the writer of the gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles, the resurrection and Pentecost are separated, cf. Acts 2:1-13.

The RCIA n.34 states: ‘According to the ancient practice maintained in the Roman liturgy, an adult is not to be baptised unless he receives confirmation immediately afterward, provided no serious obstacles exist. This connection signifies the unity of the paschal mystery, the close relationship between the mission of the Son and the pouring out of the Holy Spirit, and the joint celebration of the sacraments by which the Son and the Spirit come with the Father upon those who are baptised’.

Christian initiation is a journey of faith and conversion. This journey has its beginning in the grace of God sowing the seed of faith in a person’s heart through the proclamation of the Word by the community. Through catechesis and liturgical rites, the community accompanies the person on their journey and allows them to continue to encounter the risen Jesus in their life. Finally, through Christian initiation the person, with the community, enters into perfect thanksgiving to God through the celebration of the Eucharist.


Liturgy of Confirmation

BISHOP: The bishop is the ordinary minister of confirmation. He is the constant sign of the fullness of the Church being present within our local Church. However, due to the largeness of the diocese the bishop, on occasions, delegates to a priest to be the minister of confirmation. The oil used by the priest is that blessed by the bishop at the Chrism Mass of Holy Week. The delegation and the oil, of confirmation is administered by a priest, maintains that essential link with the bishop. We are confirmed into this Spirit‑filled local community of which the bishop is a special sign of the fullness of the Church abiding in the local community united within the Eucharist.

LITURGY OF THE WORD: ‘It is from hearing of the word of God that the many‑sided power of the Holy Spirit flows upon the Church and upon each one of the baptised and confirmed, and it is by this word that God’s will is manifested in the life of the Christian’ (Rite of Confirmation, 13)

RENEWAL OF BAPTISMAL PROMISES: The person is about to be confirmed in the journey they began at baptism. This is now an opportunity to make a statement of commitment to this baptismal way of life. One question asked is: ‘do you believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who came upon the apostles at Pentecost and today is given to you sacramentally in confirmation?’ The Spirit is to be now celebrated in the person’s life. The Spirit is now to be experienced sacramentally in the person’s life. The bishop now `confirms’ this faith.

THE LAYING ON OF HANDS: This is a very ancient gesture within our tradition, going back to the Old Testament. It is an ‘epiklesis’, that is, a calling down of the Holy Spirit. The prayer accompanying this is very ancient to the Church, going back to the sixth century, and being composed of prayers from the third and fourth century.

THE ANOINTING WITH CHRISM: Jesus is the Christ, the Anointed One. He is anointed by the descending of the Spirit at his own baptism in the Jordan River by John the Baptiser. After this baptism he begins his powerful work of revealing God the Father, and hence bringing and offering salvation. After his resurrection he anoints his disciples with the Spirit, and the Church is born, carrying on the same works as Jesus Christ. The chrism is the sign of the Spirit: ‘Be sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit.’

From the sixth century onwards, the oil used was perfumed: a naturally sensuous sign of joy and well‑being, and also it was to the Song of Songs that many of the Eastern bishops looked for their interpretation of this sign of perfumed oil.

This anointing is done by the tracing of the sign of the cross on the forehead of the candidate.

PEACE BE WIT YOU: This is an ancient greeting. It is the greeting of the risen Jesus to his stunned disciples as the Church is born, cf. Jn 20:19-21. The newly confirmed has completed their initiation into the community and receive the same mandate as the first disciples after the resurrection: “Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father sent me, even so I send you.’ And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit'” (Jn 20:21-22).



The Remembering of Jesus

Anamnesis was integral to Jesus. From his use of scripture, we realise that he had immersed himself in the remembering of the salvation history of his people, as passed down to him in the sacred tradition of the Word of God. He would have been immersed in this from his earliest childhood: listening to the stories of his people and their God as told to him by his mother and father; growing up with the worship and the hearing of the Word of God in his local synagogue; the Jewish people were a people who had a sense of a corporate personality as a people and so the stories of their history were constantly being spoken and sung about. This remembering Jesus made a part of his own remembering. He made sense of his life in the light of the history of his people and their God. For example: Lk 4:24 “I tell you solemnly, no prophet is ever accepted in his own country.” This refers back to Jeremiah and Amos, both rejected by the people. Ps 22:1ff:  ‘My God, my God…’; Ps 118:22: ‘The stone rejected by the builders…’; Suffering Servant songs of Isaiah. Festivals: Passover, Unleaven Bread, Harvest, Tabernacles…

In Luke’s gospel, Jesus begins his public ministry in the synagogue by remembering the words of Isaiah:

The spirit of the Lord is on me,
for he has anointed me
to bring the good news to the afflicted.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives,
sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim a year of favour from the Lord.
(Lk 4:18)

Jesus then proclaims that this text is being fulfilled even now while they are listening. He knows that this text is being fulfilled through his own history.

The remembering of Jesus becomes so attuned to his environment, that is, what is happening in society around him, what is happening in the relationships with the people he walks with, and encounters, and the effects that this has upon his own self, and he upon them, that he can readily read the signs of the times and recognise the plan of God in his life. This is given perfect expression in the way he approaches his death.

Jesus’ death was so significant that he remembered it before it occurred. There was nothing passive about the way Jesus approached his death and the way in which he died. The Word of God which Jesus remembered liturgically with the people in the synagogue and the Temple spoke of the Messiah, that is, the one who was to save his people. These texts spoke of a suffering servant, a Messiah who would come and die for his people. Jesus remembered and actualised this word of God, for he knew that he had been sent by his Father to bring this salvation to a suffering world that longed to have this great promise and hope fulfilled.

Jesus reflection on the events around him made him realise that his significant death was not far off. He sensed the hatred of the Pharisees and the other Jewish leaders. He sensed that they were moving to kill him. He sensed that Judas’ heart had become that of a betrayer. There was the scandalous and yet moving occurrence of the woman coming to the house of Simon the leper and anointing Jesus’ head with very costly nard, a death anointing. It was no accident that the Passover feast was fast approaching. This was the time when the People of God celebrated their most significant moment as a people: their deliverance from slavery in Egypt, being saved by the power of God in the exodus event, and entering covenant with him. All these things told him that his most significant hour had arrived. It was in this atmosphere that Jesus celebrated the Passover feast.

Jesus now longed to celebrate this great feast of Passover with his disciples. He longed to remember with them the great wonders of God. The Passover night was also the night when the Jewish people believed the Messiah would come.

As Jesus sat down at the Passover meal with his disciples he remembered with them and celebrated all the wonders which God had achieved in his People. They celebrated this remembering the wonders that God had been achieving in their own lives and would continue to achieve. In this atmosphere Jesus took the bread and the wine, blessed them, and gave them to his disciples, anticipating his own death within the spirit of the liturgy of the Passover. At the Passover of the Exodus the lamb had to be sacrificed and its blood put on the door posts and lintel of the house so that the angel would pass over the house and not slay the first-born male of the house. This was the moment of liberation for the Jewish people from the slavery of Egypt. This was the great wonder of God which they now liturgically celebrated and remembered each year.

The Father would show that he was faithful even in death and that he was more powerful than death, and so he would remember his suffering Messiah and lift him from death to life, and this event would be for the salvation of the People and the whole world.

When the time came he took his place at table, and the apostles with him. And he said to them, ‘I have ardently longed to eat this Passover with you before I suffer; because, I tell you, I shall not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.’ Then taking a cup, he gave thanks and said, ‘Take this and share it among you, because from now on, I tell you, I shall never again drink wine until the kingdom of God comes.’ Then he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, `This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.’ He did the same with the cup after supper, and said, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood poured out for you.’ Lk 22:14-20

The Disciples of Jesus Remember His Death

After the explosive event of the resurrection of Jesus the disciples went forth to share this experience of the good news of Jesus Christ with others. The Acts of the Apostles gives account of the power with which these disciples shared with others this tremendous experience which had occurred in their own life, given their life a whole new meaning and dimension, and which they felt propelled to share with others. They went forth with the same power as Jesus, proclaiming the same message of hope. Only now the one who had proclaimed a message of great hope had now become what the disciple proclaimed. They proclaimed Jesus as the source and the fulfilment of this great message of hope. They showed it to be a reality by performing the same works as what Jesus had performed.

Amid this intense activity they had need to continually remember what God had achieved in Jesus and to give thanks for this. They continued to go “as a body to the Temple every day” but they also “met in their houses for the breaking of the bread” (Acts 2:46). This meant that they would meet on special occasions for the “breaking of the bread” at the main meal of the day, the evening meal. At the beginning of this meal they would celebrate the “breaking of the bread” in remembrance of Jesus.

This would not have been a passive remembering, a reminiscing back to when Jesus walked with them. They remembered and celebrated that Jesus was now powerfully alive and active in their daily life, through the power of the Spirit. They brought their life into this remembering and took life out from this celebration of the centre of their life: remembering the death and resurrection of Jesus. They remembered this as it now occurred within their lives. This healed, strengthened, nourished, unified, and projected them towards serving this great mystery to the rest of the world.

All is gift – Blessed by God

A basic human experience: that of being a creature

If we seek into the depths of our most basic and primary experiences, we find the experiences of limitation and of dependence. The experience of limitation is extremely varied. It is such a basic experience that it is encountered in all our activity, even though at times we are less aware of the experience than at other times. It comes into all the aspects of our life: the experience of limitation with our body, especially made aware in times of sickness or exhaustion; the experience of limitation within relationships, with other persons and with God; and so on.

This experience of limitation has its own experiences directly associated with it. There are the experiences of frustration and of fear. When I attempt to deny an aspect of my limitation for some reason, not accepting my own personal limitations, the resulting experience is that of frustration. When I am confronted by an aspect of my limitation and I have not accepted and integrated this the result is fear. The basis of all fear is the experience of death, which has many forms and expressions. It is the death experience that confronts us with our most basic self: I am a creature; I therefore cannot give life to myself or to another. This experience calls out to me and offers me at the same time an experience of hope: all is gift, all life is a gift, mine and all others.

There are the experiences of dependence and response – thanksgiving/worship. To acknowledge my limitation is to acknowledge that I am a creature and not God. To acknowledge that I am a creature with limitations has the accompanying experience of knowing then that I am not self‑sufficient, self‑supporting, self‑life-giving. In my experience of being a creature I am drawn beyond myself and my limitations to seeking the limitless, to seeking an experience of the source of my existence, that is, I am drawn towards God. I am drawn towards God with a basic and fundamental experience and attitude of dependence: I am a creature and therefore I have a Creator; I have not given life to myself and I do not sustain myself with life, this comes from another, my Creator.

This experience and attitude of dependence can have an accompanying fundamental experience, that of a personal response to my Creator. This response is that of obedience to the source of my life and the attitude of worship (gratitude/thanksgiving). There is the basic need to go beyond myself and to communicate with the source of my life, yet here the relationship is unique, it is the relationship of creature to Creator, and so it is given expression in what we call worship. Important here are the questions: Who is my Creator for me? How do I view my Creator? As loving or as demanding, accusing, and punishing?

Worship of God comes from a basic attitude towards life coming from this realisation of my being a creature and so dependent upon God. This basic attitude towards life is that all is gift.

Jesus comes to reveal to us fully just who our God is. In the life of Jesus, we see someone who does not come to condemn or punish but one who wants to restore lost dignity, heal the wounds of our varied sufferings, and offer us an experience of rich and deep love. In Jesus, we are experiencing our God. He reveals to us that God is love. Who is our God? Jesus shows him forth to be a God who lovingly serves his creation with the fullness of life. He is not a schizophrenic God who wants to harm or destroy the beautiful gift he has created, but one who wants to nurture it and have it grow to fullness, like a loving mother.

This attitude is expressed to us by Jesus in Mt 6: 25‑34. Here Jesus gives profound expression to the attitude toward life that all is gift from a loving Father who has our concern at heart:

25 Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you shall eat or what you shall drink, nor about your body, what you shall put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27 And which of you by being anxious can add one cubit to his span of life? 28 And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin; 29 yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O men of little faith? 31 Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the Gentiles seek all these things; and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well.

34 Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Let the day’s own trouble be sufficient for the day. (RSVCE)

The first gift of the Father is that of creation. If we take time to look upon the wonder, beauty and the mystery of the world around us, we come to appreciate that all of creation, which includes our own life, is a gift from a loving God.

Another reality we experience is the difficulty of always beholding creation as a gift, and as wonder‑filled. This is especially true when we are confronted with suffering and death. At times, we find ourselves trying to ‘possess’ some part of this gift of creation, some material aspect of it, or at times we try to possess other persons, instead of experiencing them, appreciating them, and loving them as a gift. Inevitably we are frustrated in these attempts to go beyond our limitation into the domain of God and ‘possess’ that which is a gift of God the Creator. What is being talked about here is the reality of sin in our life.

The response of the People of God to their Creator: Blessing, sacrifice, petition and thanksgiving

In any personal relationship considered worthwhile there is the basic experience of the human person of needing to show appreciation in concrete action. When we appreciate someone, we have the need to show it rather than just think about it. This also stands true in our relationship with God our Creator. This is a fundamental human experience and so this need is expressed in a variety of ways in most religions. This is most commonly given expression in the act of sacrifice.

Sacrifice overall has come to be a word that is not understood by most people today, in fact for most it evokes negative feelings of an added burden, hardship, pointless self‑denial, giving up of freedom and so forth. This is far from the true and original meaning of the word. One essential dimension of the Eucharist is that it is a sacrifice.

At the very heart of sacrifice is the response of the human person to their personal relationship with God. It is a response that is unique in personal relationships in that it is the relationship, not between equals, as with our human relationships, but a relationship between creature and Creator. Our need is to seek to go beyond our self to a real and living communion with our God. Immediately there is the basic difficulty encountered of how do I continually enter into personal relationship with my God when in all other personal relationships I do so through physical, tangible means. With God, I encounter, in my physical ‑ spiritual self, only the spiritual other. How do I communicate, enter into communion?

For a response to this question we can look at the experience of the Jewish people as shown to us in the scriptures.

As ancient as the Jewish people themselves is their practice of offering to God part of the first fruits of their harvest. We urban dwellers usually do not have any immediate appreciation of this gesture. For a nomadic or a subsistence people the well‑being of the flocks and herds or the success of the annual harvest was as basic as to mean the difference between the enjoyment of life and hardship or even death.

These people had a strong sense of the reality that all is gift. That which was very basic to life, their food, was very much the fruit of the earth over which they exercised what control and influence they could, but they never really `possessed’ it to the degree that they lost the appreciation of it as gift. A few bad seasons brought home in a crushing way the reality that they were not gods but were creatures subject to limitations within creation.

In their relationship with their God there was the need to give thanks for the gifts received, especially the most basic gift: life and nourishment. In response, they would offer sacrifice to God. They would take some of the first fruits of the field ‑ cattle, sheep, grain, grapes, oil, and so forth ‑ and offer this to God.

(Look at Dt 16:9-17; Dt 26:1-11)

Through these offerings they could tangibly express their response and appreciation to God. All is gift and so they had only to offer back to God what was precious in the gifts they had received. In giving food in sacrifice back to God the human person is giving expression of appreciation for the most fundamental gift, that of life. It gives expression to the acknowledgment that God sustains and nourishes his creation. Food is that most basic thing which is necessary to life. It is offered to God as a gift, that is, a tangible expression of the response to God and the seeking of communion with this God. In its most basic understanding sacrifice is gift.

The sacrifice is offered in an atmosphere of praise and thanksgiving to God. This is the prayer of Blessing accompanying the offering of sacrifice.

Blessed are you, O Lord our God, King of the universe, who does bring forth bread from the earth.

Blessed are you, O Lord our God, King of the universe, who does create the fruit of the vine.

Another expression of sacrifice of the Jewish people was that of the communion sacrifice. This had the setting of a meal. It was through the communion sacrifice that the people in a tangible way gave expression and realised their desire for a real communion ‑ fellowship with their God. The sharing of a meal is a basic human experience of value. There is much more than just the functional operating here, that is, getting enough nourishment into me so that I can function properly. Present in the sharing of meal, especially those of special occasions, is the expression of fellowship, of the enjoyment and appreciation of others present, the desire for the growth of friendship and the experience of joy. As we seek this in relationships with others also we seek it in our personal relationship with our God. The Jewish people gave expression to this in their communion sacrifices.

In these meals, a portion of the cereal offering or of the flesh of the animal would be given over to God. This would mean that it was burnt on the altar by the priest. The priest would take the best piece of the animal(naturally) and then the family and friends of those making the offering would eat the rest. This being done with the attitude that through this meal they were entering fellowship with one another and with God. This became a very strong theme in the lifestyle and preaching of Jesus: that of table fellowship with all walks of people became a concrete experience of the salvation offered by Jesus; Jesus also described the fullness of the kingdom in terms of a heavenly banquet (hell being confined to eating in McDonalds for eternity).

As already mentioned, always present to us in our participating in creation with the attitude that all is gift, is also the struggle with trying to go beyond our limitations and `possess’ this gift. Sin is a fundamental and basic experience. The Jewish people brought this struggle and this disruption caused by sin to the source of all life and healing. Once again, they did this by means of sacrifice. An animal would be slaughtered for this purpose. The people were not here offering the gift of an animal to God to placate an angry God. It was the offering of a gift with the acknowledgement that the only source of forgiveness and a change of heart was from God their Creator and their Saviour. It was a tangible plea for the power of God to re‑establish the relationship they had either disrupted or completely ruptured through their sin.

In the offering of sacrifice blood had an important symbolism. The essential components of every creature were body/flesh and blood. Blood was the life force of the creature. The sacrifice consisted of separating the body and blood of the creature. The offering of blood and the sprinkling of blood was powerfully symbolic of the desire to offer back one’s own life to the giver of life. Blood essentially symbolised the giving of life and handing it over to God as gift. The covenant was ratified in blood. The offering for sin was made final in the use of the blood of the animal sprinkled or rubbed onto the altar. At the time of Passover, the blood played an essential part in the saving of the lives of the first‑born of the Jews when it was placed on the door posts and lintels, so that the angel of destruction passed over these homes.

(Look at Lev 17:1ff Sacredness of Blood; Ex 24:1ff Sealing of the Covenant; Lev 16:1ff Day of Atonement; Lev 3:1ff The Communion Sacrifice).

From the above we can see three dimensions to the Jewish understanding of sacrifice:

1) gift offered to God as a thanksgiving response.

2) communion with God is established by a sacrificial meal.

3) the offering of blood for the reconciling of sin and for the establishing of the covenant.

Jesus interprets his death as a sacrifice: The offering of the gift of himself to the Father and to the world

Jesus Appreciates his life and those of others as a gift. He lives his life living within the limitations and dignity of the gift. He lives his life in dependence, obedience, and so loving communion with the giver of life, his Father. As Jesus lives, so Jesus dies.

His unique relationship with the Father gives him an awareness of the uniqueness of the gift of his life. He is aware that he has a unique role and mission in the offering of salvation to the world. His mission and lifestyle, such as that of table fellowship with tax collectors and sinners, and the threat this poses to the Jewish leaders, brings him to the point of realising that his life is to be ended violently. His remembering of the scriptures confirms this.

In the face of death Jesus interprets his death in the terms of how he has lived his life. He has lived his life in total gift/service to others and to his Father.

Jesus sits down to supper with his disciples for the last time. The atmosphere is that of the Passover, an atmosphere pregnant with symbolism, and rich and deep memory and meaning for the Jews. He enters this remembrance celebration of his people with great thanksgiving to his God: remembering and celebrating the ever-present wonders of God.

In the atmosphere of blessing God for the gift of life and nourishment, and remembering the liberation of his people from Egypt, he takes up the bread and says the blessing:

Blessed are you, O Lord our God, King of the universe, who does bring forth bread from the earth.

Then he makes an unparalleled and startling addition to this great remembrance meal. He interprets his coming death:

Take it, this is my body.

After supper, he takes the cup of wine and says the blessing:

Blessed are you, O Lord our God, King of the universe, who has created the fruit of the vine.

He then continues to interpret his death:

Drink from this, all of you, for this is my blood, the blood of the covenant, poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. (Mt 26:26-29)

What Jesus has done is reinterpret the meaning of bread and wine for the Jews. He reinterprets the meaning of the bread and wine in reference to his coming death, and he expresses the reinterpretation in the language of sacrifice.

What are present in this sacrificial language used by Jesus are the three dimensions of sacrifice outlined above: gift, communion through meal, and the establishment of the covenant and the forgiveness of sin through the slaughter of a victim and the use of its blood.

Gift: This is central to understanding Jesus interpreting his death in terms of sacrifice. He has lived his life out most fully in the attitude and life approach that it is a gift from a loving Father. He has in no way tried to `possess’ this gift and approaches all people with this fundamental disposition. The bread and wine blessed and offered to the Father by the Jews is their thanksgiving to God for nourishment and life. [cf. offering of the first fruits of Dt 26:1-11] This also recalls for them the great wonders of God, especially that of delivering them from the slavery of Egypt. It was a sign of their offering of themselves to God.

Jesus shows to us through this act the face of the Father: the graciousness and love of the Father is that he now serves his hungry creation the fullness of life, his son, Jesus. Jesus makes himself completely gift, the bread of nourishment and life for the world. This is a total self‑giving in love.

The Jews offered the first fruits to God. Jesus through his self‑giving in love becomes the first fruit of the new and eternal sacrifice of the new covenant. He is the one who serves and nourishes us with the food of our salvation. Salvation is the person of Jesus Christ. He is the greatest gift from God to truly nourish his hungry creation. Jesus, the first fruit of our transformed humanity, is the greatest gift we have to offer back to the Father in blessing and thanksgiving for what he has done and continues to achieve for us.

This is the perfect sacrifice which we Christians can now offer back, in anamnesis, to the Father:

In memory of his death and resurrection, we offer you, Father, this life‑giving bread, this saving cup. (Eucharistic Prayer II)

Communion Through a Meal: The ritual meal was an expression of the desire for communion with one another and with God. [cf. Communion Sacrifice of Dt 3:1‑10] Jesus expresses the fullness of his gift to us and to the Father by making himself the very element of food to be shared. He offers himself fully in communion with us and with God for the body and blood was the full expression of the human person for the Jews. Through this meal, we, in a very real way, are taken into communion with God.

It is given expression in Eucharist Prayer III:

Grant that we, who are nourished by his body and blood, may be filled with his Holy Spirit, and become one body, one spirit in Christ.

The establishment of the covenant and the forgiveness of sin through the slaughter of a victim and the use of its blood: In his remembering of the history of his people, Jesus has a sense of the direction of his mission from the Suffering Servant of Isiah. Isiah has spoken of this Suffering Servant as the one who takes on the sins of the people, and through this act of total self‑giving would bring about universal reconciliation.

Yet ours were the sufferings he was bearing,
ours the sorrows he was carrying,
while we thought of him as someone being punished
and struck with affliction by God;
whereas he was being wounded for our rebellions,
crushed because of our guilt;
the punishment reconciling us fell on him,
and we have been healed by his bruises.
(Is 53:4,5)

The people offered sacrifice and sprinkled blood year after year because they could in no way achieve this lasting reconciliation (cf. to sin offering in Lv 4:1-35). Jesus through his self‑giving in love, even unto death, achieves this once and for all. Jesus interprets the separating of his blood from the body, that is, his death on the cross, through the offering of the bread and wine as his body and blood. Jesus enters into his death as a prayer to the Father for salvation for all of humanity. Jesus knows that the Father is faithful and hears his prayer. The response of the Father to the death of Jesus is the resurrection and the glorification of Jesus.

The experience of estrangement/alienation from God is overcome. A new creation becomes a reality in the resurrection of Jesus: humanity in glory. This new reality is held out to each one of us in this gift of Jesus Christ offered to the Father. This is the establishing of the new covenant spoken of by various prophets. [cf. Ex 24:1-8]

This is given expression in Eucharistic Prayer IV:

Then, in your kingdom, freed from the corruption of sin and death, we shall sing your praise with every creature through Christ our Lord, through whom you give us everything that is good.


Full and Active Participation

Jesus lived out his life with the approach and attitude of being of service to the world. He is serving the world the hope of salvation. From what we have previously looked at we can talk of this approach and attitude of Jesus in terms of gift (the gift of himself), offering (the offering of himself to the Father and to the world), and sacrifice (Jesus talks of the gift of himself and his self‑offering in terms of the Jewish understanding of sacrifice). Included in this type of language is also priest and priesthood. Jesus is spoken of in the Letter to the Hebrews as the high priest who offers himself in sacrifice for the reconciliation of the world and the establishment of the new covenant (cf. Heb 8‑9).

Through baptism we have been incorporated into Jesus Christ. We are familiar with the language used by St. Paul to describe this: being part of the Body of Christ; Christ is the Head we are the Members of the Body. Paul is using an image that is well recognised to the Greek people he is addressing. They spoke of society in terms of a single body. St. Peter, addressing Jewish Christians, describes it in the language of worship, which we perhaps are less familiar with. This language has already been used to describe the Jewish people in the book of Exodus (cf. Ex 19:3-8). However, the same mystery and reality is being described.

1Pt 2:4,5 describes Jesus and his church as a spiritual house, we are living stones making up this building, with Jesus being the precious cornerstone. This forms us into a holy priesthood and so we are able to offer spiritual sacrifices, with the confidence that they are acceptable to God because of what has been achieved in Jesus Christ.

Since we participate so intimately in Jesus through baptism, we too share the same mission and purpose as Jesus: that of serving salvation to the world. We too are to be taken up in the task of offering and consecrating the world to God so that it may reach the fullness of its purpose, cf. Rm 8:18-21.

“The full and active participation by all the people is the aim to be considered above all else” (SC a.14). This call to full and active participation by all the people is made on the foundation of our baptism: through baptism each one of us participates in the priesthood of Jesus Christ. Article 10 of the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church teaches that this exercising of our priesthood involves the whole of the gift of our life. Our very living out of our Christian life is the participating in the same life attitude and approach as Jesus: the offering of our very lives to the Father. This in no way means establishing a divorce between our “ordinary” life and our “life of faith”. It means that all our life, lived out in the Spirit, become the spiritual sacrifices we offer to God as priests of our own humanity and of creation.

What are these ‘spiritual sacrifices’? Article 34 of the same document in speaking of the laity in the church states: “For all their works, prayers and apostolic undertakings, family and married life, daily work, relaxation of mind and body, if they are accomplished in the Spirit ‑ indeed even the hardships of life if patiently borne ‑ all these become spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ (cf. 1Pt 2:5)”. It is the whole of our everyday living that is lived out in accordance to the plan God has for us.

The church speaks of the Eucharist as the source and summit of the Christian life. As the “source” it means that from the Eucharist we draw our life, our strength, our nourishment, our healing, our encouragement, our hope, and so forth for the pilgrim journey we are on in this life. As the “summit” it means that the Eucharist is the action and mystery towards which all our participation in life is directed. For it is here that in the midst of our life’s activity we strongly encounter the experience of our God. It is here that we exercise our priesthood by actively and fully offering all of our life, lived out in the Spirit, as a spiritual sacrifice to God along with the perfect offering and sacrifice, the body and blood of Jesus ( SC a.48; LG a.34).

We need to celebrate the Eucharist in a way that is both personally and communally fruitful. This involves the attitude with which we come to the Eucharist, of which hopefully some indication of is given above. It also involves how we actually participate while at the Eucharist.

The type of participation being spoken of here by the church goes beyond merely that of being able to clearly see and listen to what is going on around us, especially up front. That is a primary concern for good theatre. It means more than intensifying the activity and enlarging the number of ministries within the assembly, like adding more actors to the script if it is felt there is something lacking. Here the use of the visible signs which we use in the liturgy to signify the invisible divine things of the mystery we are celebrating become essential (SC a.33). Within the Eucharist we encounter and celebrate the mystery of salvation. We can expect that God will be doing things for us personally and communally within this celebration. We can expect to encounter, in some aspect of the mystery, salvation: the person of Jesus Christ. Here his presence is real, but encountered and experienced in various signs.


In the introduction to the Roman missal there is a statement which reads:

In the celebration of the Mass, which perpetuates the sacrifice of the cross, Christ is really present in the assembly itself, which is gathered in his name, in the person of the minister, in his word, and indeed substantially and unceasingly under the eucharistic species. (n.7)

This presence is communicated to us in four different ways or signs. Each has its own particular character but cannot be seen in isolation of the others.

To get some insight into what we mean we can look at the experience of the early Christian community after the death and resurrection of Jesus. As the early church struggled to understand the experience of Jesus Christ’s life, death and resurrection and all that happened afterwards, some events began to have outstanding significance for them. One of these basic experiences is summarised by St. Luke when he says that they recognised him in the breaking of the bread. The Emmaus story is more than an interesting event in the life of the early church; through describing the experience of those two disciples he also tells what was happening to all the disciples of Jesus. When they celebrated the breaking of the Bread or the Lord’s Supper, they came to recognise that he was present among them.

Another of their basic experiences which had outstanding significance for them was that of knowing that he was present and active through his Word. When the disciples proclaimed Jesus Christ, many of those who heard them, came to believe in Jesus Christ. Those who heard and followed were not becoming disciples of the preachers but of Jesus Christ whom they were proclaiming. They experienced the presence of Jesus Christ in the proclaimed Word.

They had the experience of his presence when they assembled in his name to pray, such that Matthew writes: “Where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in their midst.” (Mt 18:20)

They had the experience of being united so closely to Jesus that they used the image of the vine or the body of Christ to describe themselves, as in John:

I am the true vine,
and my Father is the vine dresser.
Every branch in me that bears no fruit he cuts away,
and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes
to make it bear even more.
You are pruned already,
by means of the word that I have spoken to you.
Make your home in me, as I make mine in you.
As a branch cannot bear fruit all by itself,
but must remain part of the vine,
neither can you unless you remain in me.
I am the vine,
you are the branches.
Whoever remains in me, with me in him,
bears fruit in plenty;
for cut off from me you can do nothing.
Jn 15:1-5

And the author of Ephesians writes:

If we live by the truth and in love, we shall grow in all ways into Christ, who is the head by whom the whole body is fitted and joined together, every joint adding its own strength, for each separate part to work according to its own function. So the body grows until it has built itself up, in love. (Eph 4:15-16)

In the light of the above images too we see that the early Christian community experiences the presence of Jesus too, through the one, the leader of the Community, who did the breaking of the bread in the absence of the Lord. The Lord would break it if he were present in a physical way as at the Last Supper. It is this leader who presides at the breaking of the bread, as a sign of Christ and whose function it is to unite the Assembly who celebrates the Lord’s Supper, as a visible sign of the Body of Christ united in Christ.

Christ is really present in the Assembly which is gathered in his name to celebrate the memorial of the Lord. The assembly is the worshipping, believing, celebrating, serving community gathered into unity in Christ. It is the reality described by St. Peter as a spiritual house and St. Paul as the body of Christ. The very image of the body united in Christ speaks of the assembly celebrating and participating in the fullness of the Liturgy. This invitation to participation and unity comes about through such aspects of the liturgy as architecture, posture, music, language, responses to invitations, attitudes, gestures, and prayers.

Christ is really present in the person of the minister. We have already looked at this in the experience of the early church. Jesus Christ is present to us through fellow members of the church whose ministry it is to serve the rest of the community. The service/ministry of the priest is exercised within the overall ministries/services carried out by each and every member of the faithful, who makes up the Body of Christ. It is a specific ministry established within the Church for the maintaining of the unity and keeping the community true to its proper mission and purpose. The leadership function of the priest is for the good of maintaining the unity of the community. The authority function of the priest is for the good of keeping the community united in the one truth of Jesus Christ. The priest presides over the community celebrating the Eucharist together in which there are many and varied ministries carried out by different individuals in the midst of the community. Priests, bishops and deacons are ordained ministries and involve a sacramental depth on our Catholic Tradition.

Christ is really present in his Word. So much so, that the church can say: “When the Scriptures are read in Church, God himself speaks to his people, and it is Christ, present in his word, who proclaims the Gospel.” (Roman Missal n.9) This was the experience of the early church and it is equally our own. The structure of the Liturgy of the Word allows us to celebrate the word, to hear and also to respond to Jesus Christ whom we encounter.

Christ is really present…substantially and unceasingly under the eucharistic species. Jesus Christ is present to us in and through the very food and drink he gives us.

The ways in which Jesus Christ is present to us in the Mass are interdependent. Jesus Christ lives always in the Body, the Church. He seeks to draw us more deeply into that union through Word, Eucharist and ministry.

These four forms of Christ’s presence determine the basic elements of the space we use for our Liturgy: our Church building.

The Church building: presence of Christ in the Assembly: the house of the People of God.

The Priest’ Chair: the presence of Christ in the principal ministry of the Liturgy, the President.

The Lectern: the presence of Christ in the Word.

The Altar: the presence of Christ in the Eucharist.


Aspects of full and active participation in the Eucharist, with the necessary assistance of visible signs to signify the underlying divine mystery and operation of grace:

Remembering: because our God is a God of history who ‑

acts in the history of his people

acts in the history of my life

acts in a particularly strong way in the community gathered to celebrate the Eucharist.

Sacrifice: the Eucharist is the source and summit of the Christian life. I bring my life to the Eucharist, hopefully a life lived out in the Spirit: my achievements, my joys, my sufferings and the sufferings of others I have encountered within the community, my concerns, and so forth. Along with the perfect offering and sacrifice of Jesus Christ I offer the sacrifice of myself to the Father, knowing the Father is faithful and hears our prayers. I take life from the Eucharist, especially the encounter with my God, in which I am renewed, strengthened, called to further conversion, nourished, and so forth, and continue to participate in the world, serving it salvation. The fruit of the Eucharist is evangelisation.

From the Jewish meal setting to the Mass

The first Christians were mainly Jews. Weekly and on special occasions they would gather for the breaking of the bread’ at the main meal of the day, the evening meal. At the beginning of this meal they would celebrate the ‘breaking of the bread’ in remembrance of Jesus.

Gradually there was a change. The `breaking of the bread’ became independent of the meal setting. Another factor was the influence of the Sabbath morning prayer service, which took place in the Temple in Jerusalem, or in the Synagogues, outside of Jerusalem. At first, the Christians still prayed with the Jews. The Christians were still considered a Jewish sect: ‘They went as a body to the Temple everyday but met in their houses for the breaking of the bread’ (Acts 2:46).

The Sabbath morning prayer service consisted of an opening greeting by the leader/president: `The Lord be with you’…’And with your spirit’. This was followed by a reading from the scriptures, a sermon, prayers of petition (what we would call the prayers of the faithful), and a formal dismissal. We can already recognise here the basic structure of the Mass.

The Christians met with growing hostility and persecution from the Jews, and in the end, were cast out of the Temple and Synagogues. There were excommunicated from the Jewish community.

Sunday was still a normal working day. By the second century the Christians could be found gathering before or at dawn on the Sunday. This was the day they remembered the resurrection of Jesus. Since they no longer worshipped with the Jewish people they adapted their liturgy to their own situation. They maintained the structure and content of the Sabbath morning prayer service.

The president of the assembly would greet the assembly: ‘The Lord be with you’ and the assembly would respond, ‘And with your spirit.’

Then there would be readings from the scriptures (what we now call the Old Testament) and the memoirs and letters of the Apostles (what would later be defined as the books of the New Testament).

The president would then address the assembly (the homily), the assembly would then stand for the prayers of the faithful. Already there was a difference in content win what the Christians were now doing in contrast to the Sabbath morning prayer service. The Christians were addressing their prayers to the Father but especially giving thanks to Him for the wonderful act of salvation he had achieved in his Son, Jesus. What they then inserted into the prayer service was completely new.

After the prayers of the faithful they would offer bread and wine. These the president would take, and following the action of Jesus at the Last Supper, the president would pray and give thanks over them to the Father.

He would take up the bread and remember to the assembly how Jesus on the night before he died took up the bread and said, ‘This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.’ The president would take up the cup of wine and remember to the assembly the words of Jesus, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Whenever you drink it, do this as a memorial of me.’

The people would acclaim, ‘Amen!’

After this the Eucharist would be distributed and shared out to everyone, and the deacons would take it to those who could not be present.

The assembly would end with a formal dismissal by the president.


The Introductory Rites:

The priest kisses the altar: In the pre-Christian world, the kiss was used as a customary way of honouring the temple and the gods. In the temple, the altar would be shown honour by a kiss, as with the gods, the gods would even be thrown a kiss from a distance. There was also the custom of kissing the family table at the start of a meal. The family table had religious significance because it was a place enshrined by a religious dedication (such as some have the custom today of having the priest bless the house when it is first moved into). It would be expected that this custom of greeting holy places with a kiss would be taken up and continued within the Christian tradition. (J. vol. 1 p.314)

“The Lord be with you”: This is the greeting used by the president/leader of the Jewish Sabbath morning prayer service. The people would respond with, “And with your spirit”. This expresses the presence of the Lord in the midst of the gathered community.

Penitential rite: This is a very ancient tradition within the mass. Here we acknowledge our sinfulness and confidently call upon the mercy of Jesus Christ. It is with open hearts that the community needs to enter into the celebration of this wonderful mystery.

Gloria: The Gloria is a beautiful example of an early Christian hymn. It found its way into the mass sometime before the sixth century. It expresses the purpose of our assembling together: that we may once again glorify our God for his wonderful deeds he is doing in our midst.

Opening Prayer (Collect): This is a gathering or summing up of the Introductory Rites. The community now places its petition before God and ends with a note of thanks and praise to our God. The Opening Prayer was an element of the Jewish Sabbath Morning Prayer.

The Liturgy of the Word

First Reading: Except during the Easter Season, when the reading is taken from the Acts of the Apostles, the reading is from the Old Testament. It is selected in the light of the Gospel reading. It is selected so as to throw light on salvation history, to show that what was promised by God in the Old Testament has now been fulfilled in the New Testament.

Responsorial Psalm: This psalm is chosen in relation the first reading.

Second Reading: This is taken from one of the New Testament books other than the Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles. This reading is not chosen in relation to the first reading or the gospel. Sequential selections from a particular book are followed through over a period of weeks so that people may over the three-year Sunday cycle hear a reasonable amount of the New Testament.

Gospel Acclamation: This helps us to prepare for the hearing of the Gospel. We stand at this point. Standing for the gospel, as a sign of its special importance, and in reverence for it, came into practice as early as the fourth century.

The Gospel: The gospel reading is given special importance: the assembly stands; only a deacon, priest, or the bishop proclaims the gospel; in the ninth century the making of the sign of the cross by everyone before the reading of the gospel came into the West, this soon developed into the threefold signing ‑ the forehead, signifying that our mind is open to receive Christ’s word, the lips to signify our willingness to confess our belief in Christ, and our hearts to signify that above all we intend to take the gospel to heart.

The Homily: The purpose is to proclaim to the assembly that this gospel is relevant to the community today and is being fulfilled in their midst by the power of God. It is also used for the ongoing teaching of the people in the understanding of their faith and the development of the Christian lifestyle.

Creed: The assembly responds to the proclamation of God’s word with the professing of their faith in God and what he has established in their midst.

General Intercessions (Prayers of the Faithful): We respond to the hearing of God’s word by confidently placing our needs before him. These prayers of petition are for the Church, for the world, and for the particular needs of the community.

The Offertory

The offertory had at first very practical beginnings: after the scripture readings the people would bring up the bread, wine, and the water to be used during the mass; they would also bring up food and items to be distributed to the poor; the priest would receive these from the people, give thanks to God for their gifts, following the Jewish meal custom, and then wash his hands because some of the food stuff brought up would naturally have dirt on it.

This simple procedure over the centuries has developed symbolic and spiritual meanings to it.

The priest accepts the bread and wine and raises them up and gives thanks to God. The bread and wine are fruit of the good earth and also the work of our hands and our daily labour. We pray with confidence to God, in thanksgiving, for what they will now become within the mystery of the Mass: our bread of life, and our spiritual drink.

The Eucharistic Prayer

Preface: The preface is a “speaking before” (praedicatio) about the wonderful mystery of salvation which is about unfold in the midst of the community. This preface is twofold: praise and thanksgiving to God and a proclamation to the community of some aspect of the mystery of salvation which is now to be celebrated in the Eucharistic Prayer. The dialogue at the beginning is very ancient going back to the usage of the first Christian community.

Sanctus (Holy, Holy, Holy): This is found as an integral part of the Jewish Temple or synagogue worship. The threefold expression of God’s holiness is found in Isiah 63. It is found in early Christian liturgical settings, such as indicated by its inclusion in Rev 48.

Eucharistic Prayer: There are four main Eucharistic Prayers of which one is chosen for a particular Mass. All these Eucharistic Prayers follow a same basic form and content, but each also has its own differences due to its own history. This allows for a greater richness in our celebrations. For example, Eucharistic Prayer II is substantially the one that Hippolytus of Rome put into writing around the year 215 A.D.

Of recent years a few other Eucharistic Prayers have been composed and given approval for use, these are the three Eucharistic Prayers for use with Children and the two Eucharistic Prayers for Reconciliation.

Within each Eucharistic Prayer we can distinguish three essential components:

1) The Institution narrative, following the actions of Jesus at the Last Supper where he took bread and wine and gave thanks to the Father, blessed the bread and wine, and then gave them to the disciples to eat and drink of his body and blood for their salvation.

2) The Anamnesis (Remember) and the Offering, which is the prayer after the consecration (Institution narrative) in which we remember the wonderful act of God the Father in the death, resurrection, and glorification of his Son, Jesus, which is sacramentally present to use in the gifts which are now the risen Jesus truly present to us in his continuous self‑giving love, under the humble form/appearance of bread and wine. This wonderful gift we offer back to the Father.

3) The Intercessions, which are prayers of petition for the Church and for all people, including the dead.

Doxology: This is the praise of God through Christ in the Holy Spirit, which is an ancient and classical formula underlying all Christian prayer.

Amen: Through our actions and prayer the community is now taken up into this great act of thanksgiving to God our Father for his great deed of salvation in our midst through Jesus Christ in the unity of the Holy Spirit. We give our assent to this by the “Amen”. In the ancient past the people were encouraged to shout this aloud because by this the people as a united assembly gave assent to the important actions and words carried out by the priest.

The Communion Liturgy

The Lord’s Prayer: The use of the Lord’s Prayer to prepare to receive communion goes back to the early centuries. Some of the Fathers of the Church have given special emphasis to the petitions of “daily bread” and “forgive us our sins” as having significance in what the assembly was about to receive: the bread of Life and the cup of forgiveness.

Sign of Peace: This is the “seal” put on our prayer, our prayer needs to be carried over into the action of our life. It is a token of the call to community fellowship and love, coming from the admonition of Mt 5:23‑24 that before bringing one’s gift to the altar we should be reconciled to our brother or sister. For this reason, in some of the ancient liturgies the kiss of peace, which is a common way of greeting in the ancient cultures, was placed before the Offertory.

Lamb of God (Agnus Dei): this is an invocation to Christ and recalls his sacrificial death, but at the same time is a proclamation of his victory over death in the spirit of the triumphant Lamb of the Book of Revelations.

Distribution of Communion: The Church is trying to encourage the more frequent use of Communion under both kinds, that is, the eating of the body and the drinking of the blood.

The Concluding Rite

Final Prayer: This provides a very simple conclusion to the Mass with a short prayer asking God to fulfil now in our lives the great mystery of salvation we have just celebrated.

The Blessing: The priest then calls the blessing of God down upon the assembly.

The Dismissal: The assembly is now sent forth, nourished by the Word and the Eucharist, and encouraged by one another, to “go in peace to love and serve the Lord” in their daily living.


Genuflecting: In the fourth century, Roman Courts the judges were shown respect and honour by genuflecting before them. When the Church received civil status under Constantine, the bishops were given the status of judge and the honours that went with it. Passing clerics had to genuflect before the bishop during the Mass. This then changed to people genuflecting before the reserved Eucharist as a sign of respect and honour.



Sacrament of Penance

History of the Development of the Liturgy of the Sacrament of Penance

The New Testament Period

The earliest record of penitential practices in the church is found in the writing of St. Paul In 1 Corinthians 5:4-5 Paul decrees that when the community is assembled together the incestuous member of the community is to be “handed over to Satan”. The community does this “with the power of our Lord Jesus”. This is to be a communal and judicial act. All this is done to preserve the unity and truth of the community, and for the person’s salvation. Salvation for Paul implies membership in the community.

Paul’s words of 2 Corinthians 2:5‑11 are ambiguous. The nature of the action of the majority against the offender is not clear, it could possibly have been exclusion from the community. In any case Paul’s words affirm that the community has the mission of carrying on the ministry of Jesus of reconciling and forgiving. Forgiveness is through re‑acceptance into the community.

These two passages of Paul were often cited by the Fathers as an instance of the church exercising its power of binding and loosing, of retaining and forgiving sins as given in Mt. 18:18 (cf.Mt 16:19; John 20: 22‑23).

The limited NT material at least establishes that reconciliation and forgiveness was administered by the community. The power of binding was the power to excommunicate the person who had sinned. This was the first step in the discipline of Penance. The power of loosing was the power of reconciling the person who had sinned to the community. This was the final step in the discipline of Penance.

Second Century

Baptism was a culmination of the conversion that had taken place within a person. Through baptism – the whole process of the catechumenal journey- the person’s sins were forgiven and they experienced salvation through entry into the community. Baptism was considered the first penance. For those who sinned seriously after baptism there was a second penance which could be undergone only once. This was regarded as a kind of second baptism. Since it was likened to a second baptism, likewise it also required of the person that they give evidence that a reconversion had taken place within their life. Like the catechumenate, the person was required to spend a period undergoing penance so that there was sufficient time for conversion to occur with that person’s life. This was not to be taken lightly since this second penance after baptism could only be undergone once.

There is no evidence available of the existence of some formal ritual of penance during this period. What seems to have been followed was the NT practice of excommunication and then reinstatement into the full life of the community after evidence of a lasting conversion was apparent. What procedure this followed was left up to the individual bishop and local custom.

Already during this period, we find a penitential rite to be part of communal worship, showing that the community recognised the need of all to being called to continuous ongoing conversion: “Confess your sins in the assembly and do not come to your prayers with a guilty conscience” (The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles, 4:14). This point should be kept in mind as we now concentrate upon the practice of public penance in the early church.

Third, Fourth, and Fifth Centuries

The third century was the golden age for the development of the sacraments of initiation. What can be seen to be developing along with the procedure for the sacraments of initiation was a parallel procedure for the sacrament of penance, since it was considered the second more laborious baptism.

From the third to the fifth century a common procedure of penance developed in the West and a similar but different procedure in the East.

In the West people who had seriously sinned went and confessed their sin to the bishop. By the fourth and fifth centuries in the larger cities the bishop appointed presbyters (priests) for this office. The bishop then decided if the sin was serious enough to warrant public penance. Such sins would be of the magnitude of adultery, idolatry, murder, apostasy during times of persecution, etc… If the bishop judged that they warranted public penance, then within a liturgical gathering these people would be enrolled in the “order of penitents”. It was the parallel to entrance into the catechumenate for those seeking baptism. In the fourth and fifth centuries, to powerfully symbolise their separation from the rest of the community, the sheep of Christ’s flock, these penitents would then be clothed in goat’s hair (sackcloth) and covered in ashes to commemorate Adam’s expulsion from Paradise, paradise (salvation) being in the community.

The period of penance given to the penitent could vary from a few weeks to a few years, depending on the custom of the local church. As for the catechumenate, the period had to be long enough for the grace of God to be effective within the person and so ensure a lasting conversion, as there was no third chance at penance: “but if someone sins and repents repeatedly it will do him no good, for such a person is not likely to live” (Clement of Alexander, Mandate 4,3).

The penitents, with the catechumens, would stay for the Liturgy of the Word. Penance involved hearing the word of God with the assembly so that their hearts could be nourished and converted. As with the catechumens, the penitents would then leave the assembly before the prayers of the faithful.

In the fourth and fifth century, in some communities, such as in north Africa, two stages developed in the procedure of penance. Those who chose not to reform their life by entering the “order of penitents” were dismissed from the assembly after the sermon, along with the catechumens. Those who had become penitents could remain for the entire liturgy, but they were separated from the rest of the community and could not offer the gifts, and they were excluded from receiving the Eucharist.

In some places, they were prayed over weekly and at regular intervals, as with the catechumens, hands were laid on them in the form of minor exorcisms so that the spirits of darkness could be driven from them and the Holy Spirit take possession of their life. In some communities, they were given guardians, just as the catechumens had sponsors. The guardians would assist them, watch over them, counsel them, and finally testify to the community that they had reformed their life once again according to the gospel of salvation.

In private the penitents were expected to fast, spend time in prayer, and to contribute alms to the poor. This was to assist them in being converted once again to the precepts of the gospel they had fallen away from.

Once the period of penance had been completed and the community and the bishop were satisfied, at least by the evidence of the external forum, that the penitents’ conversion was complete, then they were reconciled to the community within a liturgical celebration.

In the Roman Church reconciliation took place on Holy Thursday in a solemn ritual before the offering of gifts took place. In some communities, the penitents were required to renounce their sinfulness before the assembly and ask for God’s mercy. The bishop would reconcile the penitents to the community by imposing hands upon their head, but in some places by anointing them with oil. Both these actions were a sign of the forgiveness of sin and of the reception of the Holy Spirit. The parallel that was repeatedly drawn between baptism and penance was also drawn in this action of the final reconciliation of the penitent. The author of the Syriac Didascalia (c.250) parallels the final imposition of hands on the penitent by the bishop to that of baptism: “For whether by the imposition of hands, or by baptism, they receive the communication of the Holy Spirit” (2.41.2). They then once again joined the faithful in making their offering of gifts and sharing in the Eucharist.

In the East, the churches of Asia Minor, there were more stages within the discipline of penance:

  • Mourners: they remained outside the assembly and asked the prayers of the community as they entered the assembly;
  • Hearers: they gathered with the assembly for the liturgy of the word and then were dismissed, along with the catechumens;
  • Fallers/penitents: they had hands laid on them and were prayed over while they were prostrate;
  • Bystanders: they remained for the whole of the Eucharist but did not offer the gifts or receive the Eucharist. This grade of bystander appeared also to have been the normal penance imposed upon those whose sin was not serious enough to warrant the full public penance. In the West this practice was imposed upon those who missed the assembly on three successive Sundays.

As with the West, in the East, there was a similar solemn rite of reconciliation of the penitent when the period of penance was complete.

The Decline of Public Penance

In the third century, we find two extremes in the church’s policy towards those who had sinned seriously. One extreme wanted to declare that some sins were unforgivable, such as apostasy and adultery. Those who believed this belonged to the heresies of the Montanists or the Novatianists. At the other extreme were some bishops who readmitted with little penance those who had sinned seriously but appeared to be sorry for what they had done. This led to bishops in some regions meeting in council and deciding on a more standardised procedure.

In north Africa in 251 the bishops decided upon severe practice of discipline. People were readmitted to full communion with the assembly only after a lengthy period of penance, and they could only be reconciled once only. Those who had apostatised and offered sacrifice during the persecution were to be admitted to public penance but were to be reconciled only at the end of their life.

In Rome, a council of bishops condemned the extremes of the Novatians but adopted a similarly severe policy as that of the north African bishops.

In 313, after Emperor Constantine had endorsed Christianity as the state religion, the wave of persecutions ended, and the bishops met in council at Nicea to deal with questions of doctrine and practice. Regarding public penance, they endorsed the now traditional practice of public penance. However, they took one small but unprecedented step: those who were dying who had not yet completed their public penance or who had undergone public penance but had once again sinned seriously and were being denied a third go at being forgiven, the bishops declared: “If anyone is departing from this life and asks to receive the Eucharist, the bishop should make an investigation and grant the permission, no matter who asks it” (canon 13). It was an important step in modifying the church’s rigid rule about only one forgiveness of serious sin after baptism.

Joseph Martos in Doors to the Sacred (SCM:London, 1981) outlines the following reasons for the decline of public penance (cf. pp.320‑328).

In the fourth and fifth centuries, public penance moved in the direction of greater strictness and legalism.

Firstly, regarding legalism. Martos states this as follows: “During the fourth century, bishops were given the right to act as judges in civil suits and their decisions had legal force, and as this happened their decisions in matters of church discipline were increasingly regarded as spiritual laws: as judges they acted in the name of the emperor, as bishops they acted in the name of God. As a result, sin ‑ which had earlier been thought of as a break in the relationship of love and trust between members of the community, and as a violation of the covenant relationship between the community and God ‑ was increasingly conceived of in legal terms, as a breaking of a divine law or the violation of an ecclesiastical law. In a similar way, repentance ‑ which had originally been understood as a reconversion, a change of heart that was needed to re-establish the relationship ‑ was regarded more and more as a penalty imposed for violating the law. Long and severe penances were often seen in the same light as criminal sentences: they were needed to satisfy the demands of the law, to expiate or pay for the offense committed, to fulfill the requirements of divine justice” (p.321).

Secondly, in regard to strictness. Especially in the western churches, after a person had received reconciliation some restrictions began to be still placed upon the person. Often the reconciled person was not allow to marry, if they were married they were not allowed to have sexual relations with their spouse (often this had been part of the penance during the period of public penance), they could not engage in business or take part in the military service, they could not hold public or ecclesiastical office. Failure to adhere to these restrictions reduced the person to the status of bystander, and the person had to remain in this state for the rest of their life. The intention of these restrictions had been to assist the person from relapsing once more, from which they could not be again forgiven. Pope Leo the Great (440‑461) waived many of these restrictions, especially those restricting marriage and the use of marriage.

Another reason why people were reluctant to take on public penance was that it changed from being a state of which the community would show concern and support for the people undergoing it, to being a thing of social stigma.

Public penance had its origin in the church of the martyrs, where to be a Christian was to risk all: family, property, and one’s very life. Once Emperor Constantine had made Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire those who now flocked into the church were not generally of the same calibre as the church of the martyrs. People put off being baptised, some even up to the end of their life due to the harshness of public penance.

By the end of the fifth century, for all practical purposes, public penance had disappeared from the church, simply through people no longer presenting themselves for it. They preferred to wait until death was immanent before asking for forgiveness. Slowly ecclesiastical penance came to be practiced as a ritual for the dying.

The Development of Private Penance

Public penance eventually gave way to the development of private penance. This development had its roots back in the third century, if not further back. Penance, that is, ongoing conversion was not restricted to public penance. Penance is the way of life of the Christian. The Christian achieves penance through “penitential services, in the proclamation of the word, in prayer, and in the penitential aspects of the Eucharist” (Rite of Penance, 1974, nos.3&4). Another way of achieving penance was that of seeking spiritual counselling/ direction. Christians were encouraged to seek out a spiritual “guide” or “physician” who would give them directions in seeking out to be converted ever more closely to the gospel life.

These spiritual “physicians”, though not exclusively, were commonly monks. What developed was the practice of people regularly revealing their conscience to an experienced monk. This would include the confession of sins. The monk might then fast and pray with the person, assure them of God’s mercy and forgiveness, and give them some form of direction/counsel. Most of these monks were laymen, so, the practice of confession and then assurance of God’s mercy and forgiveness was not sacramental in the strict sense, but it was a form of an encounter with the risen Jesus. This practice was first only found within the monasteries, but by the sixth century it could be found that people outside the monasteries would have a monk as a regular “physician”.

Gregory Nazianzen give evidence from his writings that by the mid‑fourth century one of the characters of the priestly office was seen to be that of being a spiritual “physician”. The daunting prospect of this task is one of the reasons Gregory gives for his flight back to the monastery immediately after his ordination by his father, the bishop of Nazianzus. The following are some extracts from his second Oration: “But granted that a man is free from vice, and has reached the greatest heights of virtue: I do not see what knowledge or power would justify him in venturing upon this office. For the guiding of man, the most variable and manifold of creatures, seems to me in very deed to be the art of arts and science of sciences” (16). “But the scope of our art is to provide the soul with wings, to rescue it from the world and give it to God, and to watch over that which is in His image, if it abides, to take it by the hand, if it is in danger, restore it, if ruined, to make Christ to dwell in the heart by the Spirit: and, in short, to deify, and bestow heavenly bliss upon, one who belongs to the heavenly host” (n.22). The very goal of this seeking of spiritual direction was that the person be fully converted, that is, that they be “deified”.

In the early part of the fifth century Patrick was consecrated a bishop and given the mission of bringing Christianity to Ireland. His assistants in this mission were mainly monks. What developed in Ireland was a style of liturgy that was distinctly Celtic although it was still in the Latin language. The penitential discipline which developed was also unique, compared to that of the Continent.

The monks transported with them the practice of spiritual direction which included private confession to a monk and his giving the assurance of God’s mercy and forgiveness. However, they also adapted this practice to the new missionary circumstances. Monasteries were few, and scattered, and so the monk‑priests could not always be on hand to give the now normal, on the Continent, death‑bed public penance.

To tackle this pastoral difficulty the monks prescribed the same means as they used for their ongoing conversion: private, repeated confession and continuous penitential practices. Practically this meant that on one trip out they would hear people’s confessions for serious sins. They would then give them a penance to complete. The penances given were still severe. On the next trip out to the same area, or when the penance was completed, they would pray with the penitents, and assure them of God’s mercy and forgiveness. Since this was not public penance, and since the monk‑priests were not bishops, there was not here a question of official excommunication and then reconciliation. Instead of using the bishop’s sign of forgiveness, that of the imposition of hands, the monk‑priests gave a blessing. For less serious sins the monks recommended to the people that they confess their sins to one another and that they engage in various forms of penance as a remedy for sin.

In the sixth century, after the fall of the Roman Empire, the Irish monks were then involved in the reconversion of Europe. They took this new penitential practice with them back to the Continent. At first it met with resistance from some parts of the church. For example, a regional council in Toledo declared in 589: “We have learned that in some of the churches in Spain the faithful are doing penance not in accordance with the canonical rule but in another detestable way, that is, they ask a priest to grant them pardon as many times as it pleases them to sin. We wish to put an end to this abominable presumption, and accordingly this sacred council declares that penances should be given in the manner prescribed by the ancient canons”. However, this form of penance continued to win approval by the people so that by 650 a council in Chalon, France could approve of this practice as “a medicine for the soul” and “helpful to people” (Martos, Doors to the Sacred, pp.330‑1).

The final change in this practice to that of the form we are familiar with today in The Rite for Reconciliation of Individual Penitents is described by Martos: “During the ninth century, however, priests in some places began admitting penitents to communion after only part of the lengthy penance was done, once they were sure of the penitent’s sincerity. Moreover, if penitents were dying, priests would usually reconcile them and pray for God’s forgiveness right after hearing their confession, as was the custom with canonical penance. But during the tenth century, for fear that any penitent might die without the priestly assurance of God’s forgiveness, some churchmen began to recommend reconciliation right after confession in all cases, and by the end of the century the once emergency procedure had become a standard practice. Penances were still assigned, but now they had to be performed after the rite of reconciliation” (p.334).

Another change to be noted is that between the years 1000 and 1200, the words the priest used after the hearing of the person’s confession changed from a prayer for divine forgiveness ‑ “May God have mercy on you and forgive you your sins’ ‑to a statement of absolution ‑ “I absolve you from your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit”.

The Rite of Penance (1974)

In 1614 the Roman sacramentary was revised. This 1614 Rite was used until the new Rite of Penance was published in 1974. The 1614 Rite was that of private penance (confession). This rite made it mandatory that priests listen to “confession” from behind a screen. The practice of “confession” by this time had become the usual preparation to receive communion. During the Middle Ages communion was received once a year, and so “confession” was normally received only once a year. This practice continued up until the twentieth century, when Pius X urged Catholics to receive communion more frequently. In common practice, not by Church decree, Catholics believed that they had to go to “confession” before they went to communion, and so as the reception of communion became more frequent, so did the reception of the sacrament of penance.

In 1963 the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy soberly assessed the situation of the sacraments in the Church: “with the passage of time, however, there have crept into the rites of the sacraments and sacramentals certain features which have rendered their nature and purpose far from clear to the people of today” (n. 62). It went on to say of the Rite of Penance: “The rite and formulae of Penance are to be revised so that they more clearly express both the nature and effect of the sacrament” (n. 72).

Writing in 1967, Karl Rahner critiques this lack of clarity in the nature and purpose of the rite of Penance as being expressed in the piety and understanding of the ordinary person in a type of magical and legalistic‑mechanical approach to the sacrament, cf. Theological Investigations, vol.3, pp.194‑6. This approach has no real effect in the personal life of an individual, and hence in the community at large.

Rahner’s apprehension was that “repentance has come to be understood only too easily as a regret, a cheap desire…” (Ibid., p.198). For Rahner, conversion is a tough, lifelong task, it is the challenge to the person of the Christian life of penance. In the magical and legalistic attitude towards the sacrament, Rahner perceives “the feeling that confession is an institution which lets one off extremely lightly” (Ibid., p.204). This is the idea of ‘cheap’ grace.

Some important elements of the church’s present understanding of penance can be briefly outlined by the following points taken from the `Introduction’ to the Rite of Penance (1974):

The mystery of reconciliation in salvation history is achieved in the Father sending his Son into the world with the mission of proffering healing, reconciliation, and salvation to all people. Jesus gave himself fully in the paschal mystery: his giving of himself in his saving passion; this is intrinsically linked with the giving of himself in the Eucharist; after his resurrection he sent the Holy Spirit to empower his apostles to continue this saving mission (n. 1). They were sent to call people to conversion. They sacramentally achieved this through baptism first, through the Eucharist, and through the sacrament of penance for the “faithful who fall into sin after baptism” (n.2).

The church is holy, yet sinful, so penance is the way of life of a Christian (n.3). The people of God accomplish continual conversion through many different ways. “It shares in the sufferings of Christ by enduring its own difficulties, carries out works of mercy and charity, and adopts ever more fully the outlook of the Gospel message. Thus, the people of God becomes in the world a sign of conversion to God”. The church celebrates this liturgically through “penitential services, in the proclamation of the word, in prayer, and in the penitential aspects of the Eucharist”, and also in the sacrament of penance (n.4). [What is to be noted here is that penance is broader than simply that of the sacrament of penance.]

Sin disrupts our relationships with both God and with the community, and hence has a social dimension as well as the personal dimension. Reconciliation through the sacrament of penance is therefore with God, with the community, and with oneself (n.5;cf.also n.25).

“The most important act of the penitent is contrition, which is “heartfelt sorrow and aversion for the sin committed along with the intention of sinning no more”. We can only approach the Kingdom of Christ by metanoia. This is a profound change of the whole person by which one begins to consider, judge, and arrange his life according to the holiness and love of God, made manifest in his Son…The genuineness of penance depends on this heartfelt contrition. For conversion should affect a person from within so that it may progressively enlighten him and render him continually more like Christ”.

“The sacrament of penance includes the confession of sins, which comes from true knowledge of self before God and from contrition for those sins”.

“True conversion is completed by acts of penance or satisfaction for the sins committed, by amendment of conduct, and also by the reparation of injury…Therefore, it is necessary that the act of penance really be a remedy for sin and a help to renewal of life”.

“Through the sign of absolution God grants pardon to the sinner who in sacramental confession manifests his change of heart to the Church’s minister, and thus the sacrament of penance is completed. In God’s design the humanity and loving kindness of our Saviour have visibly appeared to us, and God uses visible signs to give salvation and to renew the broken covenant” (n. 6). We personally experience the risen Jesus through this sacrament, and so we have personal experience of salvation available to us.

In outlining the three forms of the Rite, (1. Rite for the Reconciliation of Individual Penitents, 2. Rite for Reconciliation of Several Penitents with Individual Confession and Absolution, 3. Rite for Reconciliation of Penitents with General Confession and Absolution), it would seem to me that the church speaks most strongly for the second rite becoming the norm.

In speaking of the second rite, that of Reconciliation of Several Penitents with Individual Confession and Absolution, the document states: “Communal celebration shows more clearly the ecclesial nature of penance. The faithful listen together to the word of God, which proclaims his mercy and invites them to conversion; at the same time, they examine the conformity of their lives with that word of God and help each other through common prayer (n. 22). The sacrament of penance should begin with a hearing of God’s word, because through his word God calls men to repentance and leads them to a true conversion of heart” (n.23).

It is with this second rite that the church has once again rediscovered the richness and essential dimensions of the practice of penance in the early church. It could possibly be said that in the second rite the church has managed to marry the two main penitential disciplines of the past, that of public penance and that of private penance. There is present the practice of the community being called together to conversion through the proclamation of the word of God and supported by communal prayer. This is liturgically richer than private penance. There is also present the possibility of experiencing repeatedly the sacrament of penance, which is “not a mere ritual repetition or psychological exercise, but a serious striving to perfect the grace of baptism” (n. 7). This was not available in the early church practice of public penance.

A concluding comment. It would probably be safe to say that the implementing of the Rite of Penance is undergoing the same difficulties as that of the implementing of the Second Vatican Council, since the Rite of Penance is the fruit of the one call to renewal. The Council was assessed by the Extraordinary Synod of Bishops in 1985. In the Final Report the bishops speak of a “partial and selective reading of the Council, with a superficial interpretation of its doctrine in one sense or another” (l,4). The bishops go on to suggest that a “deeper knowledge and reception of the Council” be achieved by ongoing formation for priests, seminarians, religious, and “also in the catechesis of adults” (l,6). The same would be true of the Rite of Penance.

In specifically addressing the liturgy, the bishops suggest that they need to “clearly explain to the people the theological foundation of the sacramental discipline and of the Liturgy” (ll,B,b,2). Also important is their noting that “catechesis must once again become paths leading into liturgical life (mystagogical catechesis), as was the case in the Church’s beginning” (ll,B,b,2). To implement the renewal contained within the Rite of Penance, education, both theoretical and experiential, is needed on all level: the minister, the educators, and the faithful in general.


History of the Development of the Liturgy of the Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick

The New Testament Period

In Mk 6:12,13 and Mt 10:1 the disciples are given the power to `cure all kinds of diseases and sickness’, they were also commissioned and sent to deliver the message of repentance.

James 5:14‑16 gives evidence that ritual prayers and anointing by the presbyters was an established practice of the Jerusalem church. The text of James also gives expression to the Jewish held belief of a general connection between sickness and sin. The church is called on to continue the integral healing and reconciling of a person to the kingdom of God. The grace of God does not act on parts of a person, as if the person could be split into physical and spiritual. The grace of God, whether in the specific areas of healing physically, or reconciling through the forgiveness of sins, works integrally upon the whole person, and this is affirmed in Jm 5:14‑16.

The text of James also needs to be balanced with other texts of the New Testament, such as Acts 3:1‑10; Acts 14:8‑18; 1Cor 12:9‑10, where the charismatic element of healing is affirmed as an ongoing reality in the church. Our view of the church carrying on the healing mission of Jesus needs to maintain the reality of both hierarchic ministry of healing and the charismatic. Both have their place within the community.

Fourth to Sixth Centuries

There are few references to anointing of the sick in these first centuries. This is understandable of the practice of anointing continued to follow the practice outlined by James.

Hippolytus in The Apostolic Tradition (Rome, 215), gives an account of the blessing of oil by the bishop: `If anyone offers oil, (the bishop) shall render thanks in the same way as for the offering of bread and wine, not saying it word for word, but to a similar effect saying: “O God, sanctifier of the oil, as you give health to those who are anointed and receive that with which you anointed kings, priests, and prophets, so may it give strength to all those who taste it, and health to all that are anointed with it” (V,2). This occurred during the Eucharistic liturgy.

This period of history regarding the anointing of the sick lack’s clarity, due to the scarcity of extant writings on the subject. This is to be kept in mind in regard to the following. During this period, it would seem that the consecrated oil was regarded as a permanent sacrament, in much the same way as we regard the Eucharist today. For this reason, its confection could be separated from its administration. The tradition of this time is the existence of two distinct types of anointing, that administered by a bishop or a presbyter, and the other, that administered by a lay person.

After the oil had been blessed at the Eucharistic liturgy the people would take it home with them to anoint their sick or anoint themselves when they fell ill.

The anointing by the bishop or presbyter was related to the forgiveness of sin as well as the restoration of health. The most explicit reference to the use of oil by the bishop or presbyters is that of Pope Innocent 1 in a letter to Decentius, bishop of Gubbio in the year 416. Decentius puts three questions in regard to anointing to Innocent: 1) What is the meaning of the James’ text: physical or spiritual illness? 2) Who performs the anointing: priest or bishop? 3) Can penitents be anointed?

The pope replied that only the faithful who are sick are to be anointed, the oil must be blessed by the bishop, but the oil can be used by the priest, as well as by the faithful for their own needs. The bishop or priest may anoint. The bishop’s visit, as distinct from the anointing by a lay person, is liturgical and includes the imposition of hands with a prayer and anointing with the blessed oil. Public penitents are excluded from the reception of the Eucharist and so they are excluded from being anointed when sick.

What is also to be noted is that there is already a linking of anointing with the healing of sickness as well as the pardoning of sins. Caesarius of Arles, in France in the sixth century preaches: `How much better and more helpful it would be if they ran to the church and received the body and blood of Christ, and reverently anointed themselves and their family with holy oil! According to the words of the Apostle James they would receive not only health of body but also pardon of sins’ (Sermons 279). The healing grace of God is integral, healing the whole person.

Transition to Anointing of the Dying

This transition is tied up with the practice of public penance. Public penance during the patristic period had often included anointing as part of minor exorcisms. When reconciliation overall became a deathbed ritual, the lengthy ritual of public penance was contracted into one single ritual: the penitent confessed his or her sins, this was followed by an anointing of exorcism, and then concluded with a prayer of forgiveness. By the eighth century some began to interpret the text from James as referring to this anointing.

It is with the reforms of Charlemagne in the `Holy Roman Empire’ in the early ninth century that this transition is achieved. The Emperor ordered that all his bishops adopt the Gregorian sacramentary. His court scholar, Alcuin of York, added a supplement of prayers and rituals which included a newly composed rite for the priestly anointing of the sick. Alcuin put this in the section of the supplement which also contained prayers for the dying and the rite of final reconciliation.

The mistake is then perpetuated. The revised sacramentary began to be used throughout the Frankish Empire, and most of the bishops in northern Europe simply assumed that the supplement added recently by Alcuin was part of the ancient practice of the church in that it was part of the liturgical that had been composed under Pope Gregory the Great who began his pontificate in 590. Also, at this time many bishops began to emphasise the importance of priestly anointing and so started to prohibit the still continuing practice of lay anointing.

The basic structure of the ninth‑century ritual for anointing was the following: holy water was blessed, the sick person and the house were sprinkled; six prayers for healing followed; then a prayer of proclamation of the apostolic authority for the rite and the declaration of the effects for which it impetrates; then three antiphons with their psalms and a prayer; then the anointing, which was administered with a form derived in part from the rite of exorcising catechumens, was administered to the back of the neck, the throat, between the shoulders, the chest, and the focal point of the pain; then two prayers followed; then there was a rubric concerning the administration of communion. There was also a directive to repeat this entire procedure, if there was a need, for seven days.

What also is developing at this time is a communal ritual for anointing. This developed first within the monasteries, where the sick monk was carried from his cell to the chapel and anointed by his fellow priests. This spread beyond the monasteries. This anointing developed into a long ceremony that required the attendance of at least three priests. Within the ritual penitential psalms were recited, the person was sprinkled with ashes and then anointed with oil, and then had his or her soul commended to God, and then finally was given communion. This ritual was not used widely, some people were too sick to be carried to the church, and the stipend for at least three priests left it only for the well‑off. What is to be noted is that anointing of the sick has now developed a very clear penitential character.

The order the ritual followed in the ninth century was based upon the Letter of Innocent I to Decentius. Innocent had stated that the oil should not be given to the unreconciled penitent so various councils decreed that those who were in danger of death should make their last confession before being anointed, and then receive their last communion, that is, viaticum. The anointing had now come to be interpreted as a `consolation of the church’ for those who could not complete their penance because of their approaching death. By the end of the ninth century the “last rites” of the Frankish church were reconciliation, anointing, and viaticum. This was then transported to the Roman church.

Even though by the eleventh century anointing had developed a rather penitential character in its ritualistic expression, the prayers that accompanied the anointing still asked for physical recovery as well as the forgiveness of sins.

In the twelfth century anointing was rarely performed on anyone expected to recover from their illness, and so the prayers for physical healing were gradually dropped and replaced with ones which spoke only of the remission of sin and the hope of salvation. At times these prayers were borrowed from exorcism formulas in old liturgical books or newly composed, but they were attempts to express what was being ritually celebrated: anointing in preparation for death.

Another significant change was that whereas in the earlier practice of the church the oil had been applied to the parts of the body which needed healing, the oil now began to be applied only to the senses, and the hands and feet. The prayers accompanying this anointing were that God would forgive the sins committed through the various organs of the body. Also in this century, the sequence of the last rites was changed: reconciliation, Eucharist, and finally the last anointing (extreme unction). The Eucharist was no longer regarded as the final preparation for death, anointing had taken its place.

By the thirteenth century the following can be observed in regard to anointing: the rite was simplified to make it more available and easier to administer; only one priest was needed; the prayers asking for physical healing were not included in the simplified rite. The standard formula during the anointing being some variation of the prayer: `Through this holy anointing and his tender mercy, may the Lord forgive whatever sins you have committed by sight, by hearing,…’ as the oil was signed on the various parts of the body.

What also occurred was that the theologians began to theologise from this practice of the church. Since extreme unction was the last sacrament and immediate preparation for death, then what was the effect of the sacrament? The Franciscans argued that extreme unction forgave venial sins, especially those which had not been confessed. The Dominicans argued that anointing eliminated the remnants of sin. In either case, physical healing had now become of secondary importance over spiritual healing. This was argued back and forward by the scholastic theologians. The Council of Trent (1545‑1563) took the middle road and spoke of the grace of the sacrament removing both sin and the remnants of sin, and occasionally brought bodily healing to the sick person. It is worth noting that Trent did not demand danger of death as a condition for validity in the reception of the sacrament, even though this was a strongly held view at the time.

This practice and understanding of the church in regard to anointing remained much the same up until the reforms of the twentieth century.


In 1963 the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy soberly assessed the situation of the sacraments in the Church: “with the passage of time, however, there have crept into the rites of the sacraments and sacramentals certain features which have rendered their nature and purpose far from clear to the people of today” (n. 62). It went on to say of the sacrament of anointing: “`Extreme Unction’, which may also and more properly be called `anointing of the sick’, is not a sacrament for those only who are at point of death. Hence, as soon as any one of the faithful begins to be in danger of death from sickness or old age, the fitting time for that person to receive this sacrament has certainly already arrived” (n. 73). “The number of the anointings is to be adapted to the circumstances; the prayers that belong to the rite of anointing are to be so revised that they correspond to the varying conditions of the sick who receive the sacrament” (n. 75). The Council also directed that a continuous rite be prepared whereby the sick person is anointed after the sacrament of penance and before receiving viaticum, cf. n. 75. In 1972 the new rites of anointing and viaticum was published.

The following are some points taken from the “General Introduction” of Pastoral Care of the Sick (1972):


1. Suffering and illness have always been among the greatest problems that trouble the human spirit. The faith of the Christians help them to grasp more deeply the mystery of suffering. Christ has shown that sickness has meaning and value for their own salvation and for the salvation of the world. Christ during his life often visited and healed the sick, showing them loving concern.

3. Part of the plan laid out by God’s providence is that we should fight strenuously against all sickness and carefully seek the blessings of good health. Yet we should also be prepared to fill up what is lacking in Christ’s sufferings for the salvation of the world, cf. Col. 1:24; Rm 8:19‑21.

4. Christ implies that those who visit the sick should be concerned for the whole person and offer physical relief and spiritual comfort.


5. Those who are seriously ill need the special help of God’s grace in this time of anxiety, lest they be broken in spirit and, under the pressure of temptation, perhaps weakened in their faith.

Through the sacrament of anointing, Christ strengthens the faithful who are afflicted by illness, providing them with the strongest means of support.

The celebration of the sacrament consists especially in the laying on of hands by the priests of the Church, the offering of the prayer of faith, and the anointing of the sick with oil made holy by God’s blessing. This rite signifies the grace of the sacrament and confers it.

6. This sacrament gives the grace of the Holy Spirit to those who are sick: by this grace the whole person is helped and saved, strengthened, and a return to physical health may follow the reception of this sacrament if it will be beneficial to the sick person’s salvation. If necessary, the sacrament also provides the sick person with the forgiveness of sins and the completion of Christian penance.

7. In the anointing of the sick, which includes the prayer of faith (see James 5:15), faith itself is manifested. Above all this faith must be made actual both in the minister of the sacrament and, even more importantly, in the sick person. The sick person will be saved by personal faith and the faith of the Church, which looks back to the death and resurrection of Christ, the source of the sacrament’s power.

Viaticum for the Dying

26. When in their passage from this life Christians are strengthened by the body and blood of Christ in viaticum, they have the pledge of the resurrection that the Lord promised: “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day” (Jn 6:54).

When possible, viaticum should be received within Mass so that the sick person may receive communion under both kinds. Communion received as viaticum should be considered a special sign of participation in the mystery which is celebrated in the Eucharist: the mystery of the death of the Lord and his passage to the Father.

Continuous Rite

30. For special cases, when sudden illness or some other cause has unexpectedly placed one of the faithful in proximate danger of death, a continuous rite is provided by which the sick person may be given the sacraments of penance, anointing, and the Eucharist as viaticum in a single celebration.

33. Like other sacraments, these too have a community aspect, which should be brought our as much as possible when they are celebrated. 34. the family and friends of the sick and those who take care of them in any way have a special share in this ministry of comfort.


Nuptial meaning of the body (Theology of the Body)

The vocation of marriage in Australia is in crisis. The symptoms are very obvious: high divorce rate; concerning levels of emotional and physical abuse within families; the fear or reluctance to be open to new life; a reluctance, and commonly, an inability of young adults to enter into this permanent, life‑long commitment (it should not be presumed that those entering into marriage are necessarily doing it with an intention of a permanent commitment); the lack of appreciation and abuse of the dignity of human sexuality; the 2017 redefinition of the Commonwealth of Australia Marriage Act.

This crisis regarding the vocation of marriage reflects a deeper crisis within the human person: the incapacity to make a sincere gift of oneself to the other. The fundamental basis to this crisis takes us back to the truth expressed in the third chapter of Genesis, the story of the temptation by the Father of lies of the first human persons, and their consent to this lie of believing that they could live beyond the limits of their own creaturehood and become gods; self-made and self-sufficient masters of their own lives. We, too, as a society suffer the crisis, and so the frustration and pain, of trying to live without a reference to our loving Creator and his plan for us.

It is to this painful situation that Church addresses the message of hope and truth regarding the vocation and dignity of the human person.

To explore a little the vocation of marriage let us begin first with seeking to establish the truth of the basic dignity of the human person and sexuality in reference to the vocation of marriage.

To do this I will take the approach of exploring what the first two chapters of Genesis have to offer by way of a reference and starting point for this reflection. It is substantially based on the theology of Pope John Paul II.

The Human Person and Sexuality as revealed by Genesis 1‑2

“In the beginning….” (Gn 1:1). The “beginning” for the Jews was a stressing of what was the perennial experience common to the experience of each person: original innocence and original sin being two dimensions. In this section I will concentrate exclusively upon what Genesis has to say of the experience of original innocence of the human person. I will also concentrate upon sexuality within this dimension.

Original innocence means the full flourishing of the human person. It is the human person living their life in the truth that God had originally designed, in love, for the human person.

The reality of each of us is that we struggle with the reality of original sin in our life. We have a natural inclination to choosing evil. We have to live also with the consequences this brings upon ourselves ‑ that particular form of suffering and disruption within our self and with others that sin brings.

Original innocence is also a reality within us. It is residing in the depth of our true identity, waiting to be discovered, brought forth, and realised in our practical living in the mysterious working out of nature and grace. This is what Jesus Christ offers us through his saving death. He has conquered sin. Through baptism we are empowered by the Spirit who works continually within us to achieve the original plan of God in us and so restore us to our full dignity as human persons. In this is our true peace and happiness. This becomes our life‑long task of the struggle within our self between the reality of original sin and original innocence. We can have confidence in the victory of original innocence through the victory of Jesus Christ, yet we will patiently have to await the fullness of this through experiencing our own resurrection.

While acknowledging the reality of this struggle, let us look now specifically at the dignity of the human person and sexuality in reference to original innocence in the following.

God created man in the image of himself,

the image of God he created him,

male and female he created them. (Gn 1:27)

The human person has the unique dignity and value of being created in the image of God. John Paul II states this dignity as the following norm: “in its negative aspect, it states that the person is the kind of good which does not admit of use and cannot be treated as an object of use and as such as a means to an end. In its positive form the personalistic norm confirms this: the person is a good towards which the only proper and adequate attitude is love”, (Karol Wojtyla, Love and Responsibility, p.41).

This is the basis of the response of Jesus to what is the greatest commandment we need to follow: “This is the first: Listen Israel, the Lord our God is the one, only Lord, and you must love the Lord you God with all your heart, will all your soul, with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: You must love your neighbour as yourself’ (Mk 12:29-31). Jesus invites us to realising the original innocence deep in our identity by saying, `I say this to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you; so that you may be children of your Father in heaven, for he causes his sun to rise on the bad as well as the good, and sends down rain to fall on the upright and the wicked alike’ (Mt 5:43-45). We are called to image God, who is love, in his love for the human person.

Adam, created from the dust of the ground (Gn 2:7), is defined as a male (`ish, Gn 2:23) only after the creation of woman in Gn 2:22. So in Gn 2:18 ‑ “Yahweh God said, “It is not right that the man should be alone. I shall make him a helper.’“‑ God is speaking of the solitude of the human person. This solitude has two meanings:

a) one derived from the very nature of the human person;

b) the other derived from the male ‑ female relationship.

a) Adam names the creatures of creation. In so doing he becomes conscious of his non‑identity with the rest of creation. This experience of other creatures begins in him a conscious search for his own identity. Unlike the rest of creation, he is capable of transcendence: self‑ consciousness and self‑determination. He has the experience of freedom and choice of actions in regard to his own life. He is capable of truly human activity. Adam is aware of his aloneness and uniqueness in relation to the rest of the world. Adam is not satisfied to remain solely alone within himself, like an island in the middle of an ocean. He also experiences a very basic movement beyond himself to communication with others: with God and with other human persons.

The person discovers others like unto himself or herself and also discovers within this a natural movement towards communication with other people. We naturally seek to enter into relationships with others. The person experiences a natural movement towards entering into community with other people and of entering into relationship with God. Basic to this natural movement towards others is the experience of the need of the person to give himself or herself to the other. This need has a deeper origin in the human person that the sexual instinct which naturally and strongly inclines the person to entering into relationship with persons of the opposite sex. The human person has an inborn need of betrothed love, a need of giving himself or herself to another. It is only in making a sincere gift of himself or herself to the other that the person will truly flourish. It is in forming this community based on love that the human person images God, who is a community of Persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

b) “Then, Yahweh God made the man fall into a deep sleep…” (Gn 2:21). Solitary Adam falls asleep and God, in a new act of creation, wakes up the male and female in the human person. Adam wakes up in his double unity of male and female. Out of Adam’s personal solitude he opens up to a helper fit for himself.

There is the experience of breaking beyond this solitude in the experience of duality: masculinity and femininity (the recognition of this occurring at a very early life stage).

Man and woman form a double solitude. Out of this double solitude springs two complementary dimensions of self‑consciousness and self‑determination, two complementary ways of being conscious of the meaning of the body. Although corporeality (bodiliness) and sexuality are not completely identified, sexuality is more than a mere attribute of the person. The complementarity of human sexuality is not only genital. There is the complementary but differing experiences, depending on whether we are male or female, of sensation (what we experience and learn through the senses), of affections, and of emotions. Sexuality is a constituent part of the person whereby we name the other person as `he’ or `she’. Sexuality is a very strong and basic experience of value. The presence of the feminine, complementing the masculine, and vice versa, together they are an enrichment for the human person.

“This one at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh!” (Gn 2:23).

The male’s response to the awareness of the female is an `original’ emotion: one of exulting joy, a prototype of the Song of Songs. This `beginning’ experience is one of value. The presence of the feminine element, complementing with the masculine element, together they are an enrichment for the human person in his or her whole history.

“This is why a man leaves his father and mother and becomes attached to his wife, and they become one flesh” (Gn 2:24). Flowing from the experience of `double solitude’ is the natural movement towards the ‘helper’, the `communion of persons’. They become one flesh is expressed and realised in the marriage act, submitting at the same time their whole humanity to the blessing of fertility, cf. Gn 1:28. Each time they unite in the marriage act they rediscover the mystery of creation, in which they recognise each other and call each other by name. The marriage act is an expression of the transcendence of the persons tied up with their original solitude: self‑ consciousness, self‑determination, choice, and an experience of the meaning of the body in the act of mutual self‑giving of their whole self to the other.

The act of sexual intercourse unites man and woman. Through this act the complementarity of male and female is revealed: the male is capable of personally entering into and giving himself to the woman, and only because the female is capable of personally receiving him, and so, through receiving him, gives herself to him. Sexual intercourse is therefore a unitive act. It is an act which is person‑uniting and life‑sharing, and so capable of expressing and increasing the love of the one for the other.

“Now, both of them were naked, the man and his wife, but they felt no shame before each other” (Gn 2:25). This describes the mutual experience, in ‘original innocence’, of the others body: femininity and masculinity. It is the bodily perception of physical nakedness, moving through this, via the perception of the body, to a fullness of consciousness of the other person, an intimate communion of persons, husband and wife.

The person is attracted by the physical sexuality (two complementary dimensions of self‑consciousness and self‑determination, two complementary ways of being conscious of the meaning of the body) of the other complementary person. Moving through and beyond this by means of sensuality and tenderness (tenderness being the ability to feel with and for the whole person) through a growing intimate communion of sight, touch, hearing, and dialogue, there is a joint discovery and valuing of the other person. Through the variety of modes of communication open to the human person there is a continual deepening of the relationship and an increasing discovery of the richness and value of the other person, for who they are in themselves, (in contrast to an attitude of use).

1643 “Conjugal love involves a totality, in which all the elements of the person enter—appeal of the body and instinct, power of feeling and affectivity, aspiration of the spirit and of will. It aims at a deeply personal unity, a unity that, beyond union in one flesh, leads to forming one heart and soul; it demands indissolubility and faithfulness in definitive mutual giving; and it is open to fertility. (Catholic Church. (2000). Catechism of the Catholic Church (2nd Ed., p. 410). Washington, DC: United States Catholic Conference)

‘Original nakedness’ is a particular fullness of interpersonal communication. This brings us again to Gn 1:27, where the dignity of the human person is that of being created in the image of God. “Male and female he created them”, no one male or female is the full imaging of God alone. The revelation of God here is that God is imaged not in the individual but in the community of persons. The most basic fullness of this community of persons being expressed in the fullness of communion of a man and woman.

With a vision imaging that of God, the person has a pure vision of the ‘original’ good of God’s creation of humanity as male and female. It is a gaze of penetrating intimacy. It is the recognition of reciprocal complementarity in being male or female so that in their communion of persons they become a gift for the other (nuptial meaning of the body). It is here that they arrive at the fullness of the natural movement of the person’s experience of ‘original solitude’ and ‘original unity’.

The experience of the natural movement towards self‑transcendence is expressed in one way in the profound need of the person to give himself or herself to another, plus the experience of sexuality, leads two complementary persons, in recognition of their reciprocal complementarity in being male or female, to express the full communion of their intimacy they have established through sensuality and tenderness, through sight, touch, hearing, and dialogue, in a full personal giving of each self to the other. By this giving they become a gift one for the other. This is the nuptial meaning of the body.

This fullness of giving of self is expressed and realised in the marriage act, expressed symbolically and (sacramentally) in the term “they become one flesh” (Gn 2:24). In this mutual surrender of oneself to the other in the marriage act there is at the same time a submitting of themselves to the possibility of the blessing of fertility. The giving of oneself to the other is a creative act of self‑transcendence and is expressed bodily in procreation.

The complementarity of the male and female is here once again expressed. The marriage act is life‑loving, procreative, and person‑creating. Human sexuality is “directed to the generation of a human being; and so by its nature it surpasses the purely biological order and involves a whole series of personal values” (Familiaris consortio, n. 11). No one human person is the possessor of this awesome, God‑given power of creating another human life. It depends upon the complementarity of the male and female.


God is the Creator whose creation is a fundamental and original gift to the human person from the ‘beginning’. God’s giving is one of radical giving, a giving in love. Adam in his ‘original solitude’ did not live as a full recipient of this gift, nor image God in his fullness: God as a community of Persons. Only in the `original unity’ of male and female, in the communion of persons, and in the state of `original nakedness’ in which the human persons are fully conscious of the meaning of their body as an imaging of God in being a gift for each other, in the radical giving in love, does the human person realise the very essence of their being a person, and hence realise the meaning of their existence. In reciprocal communion, man and woman “become one flesh” by a total giving in love one to the other, to the extent of existing each for the other. The creativity of this gift is expressed bodily in procreation.

“In the beginning” man and woman in their `original innocence’ can stand unashamedly naked before each other, in their masculinity and femininity, and in sharing in, and exulting in, the nuptial gift of their bodies, they experience ‘original happiness’.


Within the Rite of Marriage, the minister questions the bride and bridegroom in regard to their intentions regarding each other and the marriage. These three questions are directed towards the essential components of a marriage: irrevocable personal consent; married love; procreation.

Irrevocable Personal Consent: _ and _, have you come here freely and without reservation to give yourselves to each other in marriage? “The intimate partnership of life and the love which constitutes the married state has been established by the creator and endowed by him with its own proper laws: it is rooted in the covenant of its partners, that is, in their irrevocable personal consent” (The Church in the Modern World, n. 48).

Before marital consent is entered into the man and the woman are two unbounded individuals. Through this free personal choice of marital consent the man and woman give themselves a new identity: the man becomes the woman’s husband and the woman becomes the man’s wife, both become spouses until death. They are choosing each other as irreplaceable and not‑substitutable persons until death. If this intention of the total giving of themselves is not present, then the marriage is not brought into existence.

God is the author of the institute of marriage. “For the good of the partners, of the children, and of society, this sacred bond no longer depends on human decision alone” (The Church in the Modern World, n. 48). “When spouses give their free consent, they are entering into and making themselves part of an objective order or `institution’ which transcends them and does not in the slightest depend on them as far as its nature and special laws are concerned” (Paul VI, “Address to the Sacred Roman Rota”, February 9, 1976).

This new identity of being husband and wife is not something that lasts only as long as the couple share the mutual desire to be together. It is a definite and lasting change of identity. Once they have made this mutual commitment to each other, they can no more easily do away with their new identity as spouse to each other, than they can do away with being the persons they have been all their life. This new identity is the same as becoming a parent, a person becomes either the mother or father of a child. This is a new identity that cannot be changed even if one wants to get out of the responsibility that goes with being a mother or a father. God has established marriage with this wonderful yet very challenging reality.

Married Love: Will you love and honour each other as man and wife for the rest of your lives?

A life lived out in married love is the very thing which constitutes a marriage. In the church document, On the Regulation of Births, n. 9, Paul VI describes the elements of married love: married love is fully human, total, faithful and exclusive, fruitful, and sacramental.

FULLY HUMAN: Within the experience of each person is the natural movement towards communion with others. There is the experience within the person of the need to give himself or herself to another person. This need has a deeper origin than the sexual instinct. Married love is not merely a response to the sexual drive, one of instinct and sentiment, it is also, and mainly, an exercise of the free will. It is the choice of another person because of the worth and value discovered in that person in who he or she is in themselves. It is not based merely on externals. This response is fully human because it involves the attraction of physical sexuality (two complementary dimensions of self‑ consciousness and self‑determination, two complementary ways of being conscious of the meaning of the body), it moves through and beyond this attraction by means of sensuality and tenderness, through a growing intimate communion of sight, touch (`touch’ being used generally here to include all aspects of physical contact, including the genital touch, that is, genital sex), hearing, and dialogue, to a joint discovering and valuing of the other person. What is being spoken of here are the variety and necessary ways of communication.

An openness and a depth of communication is essential for the maintaining and continued growth in married love. This movement requires the act of free will, that is, a constant choice and commitment to this life‑long endeavour. This is especially true when the marriage reaches one of its moments of difficulty, and there are no marriages without these moments. It is in the darkness, suffering, and temptation of these moments that the constant choice and commitment becomes essential. These moments, as difficult as they are, are potentially very fruitful moments for the maturing of married love (cf. marriage feast at Cana, John 2:1-11).

This love is not something shallow and short‑lived, like an infatuation, remaining solely on the emotional level. It is something life enduring, solid, and involving the self‑giving of the whole person, one to the other: “it is rooted in the covenant of partners, that is, in their irrevocable personal consent”. It is fully human because it is based upon a deep and special friendship between two persons. It requires more than just the natural spontaneous response to feelings and emotions. It requires a fully human response which involves together the heart, mind, and the will, put into the practical action of seeking the full welfare and happiness of the other person as the central concern of the other spouse.

TOTAL: In the special friendship of married love the intention of the spouses is to hold nothing back from each other. Everything is generously shared. The partner is loved for the partners self, with the partner rejoicing in the fact that he or she can enrich the other with the gift of himself or herself.

The marriage act (sexual intercourse) shows in a particular way the totality of the giving in marriage. Through the marriage act husband and wife express and help to bring about, to strengthen and to make grow this totality of married love. Through the marriage act they express the full meaning of the giving of one to the other in marriage: the full personal giving of each self to the other so that they become a gift one for the other.

The human perennial reality of sin needs to be acknowledged here. Not all acts of sexual intercourse between spouses are expressions of the totality of self‑giving in married love. Some acts of sexual intercourse are at times irresponsible and unloving, and as such are not marital acts.

FAITHFUL AND EXCLUSIVE UNTO DEATH: Married love can exist only if the spouses honour their commitment to fidelity in marriage. This faithfulness and exclusiveness of married love is situated in the free act of irrevocable personal consent the spouses make to each other.

The exclusive and faithful character of married love is expressed in the marriage act. The marriage act symbolises and reveals the total self‑giving of married love. Through this act the husband and wife “become one flesh”, they “know” each other in an exclusive and intimate way. The giving and receiving of one to the other in the marriage act makes this act a unitive act: person‑uniting and life sharing and capable of expressing and increasing the love between the spouses. They give and receive of themselves each to the other as irreplaceable and non‑substitutable persons.

Acts of sexual intercourse entered into by unmarried individuals are not unitive acts which give expression to the nuptial meaning of the body: a gift one for the other. Acts of sexual intercourse between unmarried individuals are not unitive acts and acts expressing a deep, giving, exclusive love but rather express its counterfeit; they are not choosing each other as irreplaceable persons, as non‑substitutable beings of whom and with whom each wills to live for the rest of their lives. Sexual intercourse between the unmarried unites two replaceable and substitutable individuals, at liberty to share their lives, their persons, with others; it does not unite two irreplaceable and not‑substitutable persons and it does not do so precisely because those joining in the act have failed to make each other irreplaceable by the act of irrevocable personal consent bringing the marriage into being. In the very act of uniting sexually, of becoming one flesh, an unmarried male and female fail to be united, to become one flesh, and they fail to do so precisely because they are not married. They speak a lie in choosing this act. They do so because in choosing an act symbolising and manifesting an intimate personal union honouring the irreplaceability of the other they set aside this irreplaceability. Their act of genital union, far from being person‑ uniting and person‑loving, is one that momentarily joins individuals whose place can be taken by other individuals; it is an act in which the pleasure each provides is loved, but it is not an act in which the irreplaceable person giving the pleasure is loved. Their act violates the personalistic norm: the person is the kind of good that does not admit of use and cannot be treated as an object of use and as such the means to an end; the person is a good towards which the only proper and adequate attitude is love.

Procreation: Will you accept children lovingly from God, and bring them up according to the laws of Christ and his Church?

FRUITFUL: Within this one reality of a “community of love” the fruitfulness of marriage is situated. “By its very nature the institution of marriage and married love is ordained to the procreation and education of the offspring and it is in them that it finds this crowning glory” (GS, 48). “This love is `fecund’ for it is not exhausted by the communion between husband and wife, but is destined to continue, raising up new lives” (HV a.9). The grace of God is operative in married love, and so it is of its very nature oriented to going out from itself to creating a greater “community of love”.

Marriage and married love being is by nature ordered to procreation and being ordered so by God himself: “wishing to associate them in a special way with his own creative work, God blessed man and woman with the words: “Be fruitful and multiply” (Gn 1:28)”.

“Children are the supreme gift of marriage and greatly contribute to the good of the parents themselves”. Marriage must be open to this gift of God. It is in this way that the spouses “cooperate valiantly with the love of the Creator and Saviour”. In fact, this is an aspect of their vocation/mission in life proper to them: “to transmit human life and to educate their children”.

Only spouses are truly capable of procreating life. Procreation for human persons goes beyond the merely biological sphere of simply bringing another life into existence. Procreation for human persons of its very nature needs to be fully human. It needs to take place within the enduring relationship of the special friendship of married love.

The Church has needed to re‑affirm this due to the recent practice of heterologous artificial fertilization (techniques used to obtain a human conception artificially by the use of gametes coming from at least one donor other than the spouses who are joined in marriage). The Instruction On Respect For Human Life In Its Origin And On The Dignity of Procreation (1987) states: “The fidelity of the spouses in the unity of marriage involves reciprocal respect of their right to become a father and a mother only through each other. The child has the right to be conceived, carried in the womb, brought into the world and brought up within marriage: it is through the secure and recognized relationship to his own parents that the child can discover his own identity and achieve his own proper human development. The parents find in their child a confirmation and completion of their reciprocal self‑giving: the child is the living image of their love, the permanent sign of their marriage union, the living and indissoluble concrete expression of their paternity and maternity” (II, A,1).

Procreation involves the parents in the challenging, ongoing task of creating the environment within this special friendship of married love whereby the children will learn gradually and on a very practical level the Christian life. Parents are not only concerned with seeing that the children get a good grasp of basic learning skills that will assist them in their schooling, but more importantly, it is the parents who will be the ones who will primarily and firstly give the children a good grounding in morality and faith. This will not so much be from what parents tell their children as from what the children will soak up from their parents by the very lifestyle of the parents. How the parents treat each other, treat other people, how they pray at home, and so forth are the things that the child will be learning because from the moment of the birth of the child the atmosphere and environment that the parents create is influencing and having effect upon the child. The real challenge is for the parents to be taking up the challenge of living out their baptism. This will be the proper environment for the procreation of their children.

The Church has continued to put forth a consistent teaching regarding the regulation of births within marriage. Its teaching in this area has had a lot of anger and resentment directed against it by a large number of Catholics, and on the whole the teaching of the Church in this area is being ignored. This is due to the Church teaching that it is proper for the parents to responsibly regulate the birth of their children, however it must be done in a way that upholds the full dignity of the human person, and more specifically in this matter, the full dignity of sexual intercourse within marriage. For this reason the Church has spoken against the use of artificial means of regulating birth, namely the use of the various means of contraception.

The marriage act needs to remain open to expressing the fruitfulness of marriage. The marriage act has the dignity of being a life‑loving, a procreative, and a person‑creating act. To reduce it to anything less is to dehumanise the act. For this reason the Church affirms “the inseparable connection, willed by God and unable to be broken by man on his own initiative, between the two meanings of the marriage act: the unitive meaning and the procreative meaning…By safeguarding both these essential aspects, the unitive and the procreative, the marriage act preserves in its fullness the sense of true mutual love and its ordination towards man’s exalted vocation to parenthood” (Humanae Vitae, 12).

It is the proper mission of the spouses to transmit human life and to educate their children. This needs to be achieved within a fully human way. It involves cooperation with the love of God the Creator, fulfilment of their role with a sense of human and Christian responsibility, with correct judgement, a consideration of their own good and the good of their children already born or yet to come, an ability to read the signs of the times and of their own situation on the material and spiritual level, and, finally, an estimation of the good of the family, society, and of the Church. It involves using their conscience properly. It is within this fully human way that they are called to regulate the birth of their children and so cooperate with the grace of God. (cf. LG a.50)

Even in the case of the infertile marriage, the marriage still “retains its character of being a whole manner and communion of life and preserves its value and indissolubility”.

Sacramental: After the couple have declared their intention regarding the marriage the minister invites them to join their right hands and declare their consent before God and his Church.

I, _, take you, _, to be my wife. I promise to be true to you in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health. I will love you and honour you all the days of my life.

I, _, take you, _, to be my husband. I promise to be true to you in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health. I will love you and honour you all the days of my life.

God has established a covenant with humankind. The fullness of this covenant is expressed in the indissoluble union of Jesus with his Church. Marriages between two baptised persons, by virtue of baptism, are sacramental. The union established by the irrevocable personal consent of the spouses symbolises/signifies the total self‑giving in love of Jesus to his Church, which has established the new covenant of God’s love for his People. This mystery is prefigured in all true marriages, that is, also those not between two baptised persons. Its fullness is expressed in Christian marriage so that the Christian marriage is a sacrament, cf. Eph. 5:21-33.

The author of marriage is God. Spouses can be confident in the help of God in realising his plan for them in their marriage. Marriage being a sacrament, the spouses can be confident of a special presence of Jesus Christ in their marriage. The power of the presence of Jesus within the marriage needs to be emphasised otherwise all that has been outlined above in regard to the beauty and value of marriage (irrevocable personal consent, married love, procreation) would seem to be an unrealisable ideal, even a burden, in view of our human weakness and powerlessness, in view of our sinfulness.

Each sacrament has its full meaning in the paschal mystery of Jesus Christ. As well as resurrection, suffering and death are essential aspects of this mystery. The difficulties and the sufferings of married and family life, through the presence and power of the love of Jesus, do not become insurmountable burdens, but even can become a means to a fuller expression of married love. Taking up the cross and following Jesus, and thereby experiencing true happiness, is also the promise of hope held out to spouses in the living out of their marriage. Marriage as outlined above is an ideal, but also a realisable and achievable reality. John Paul II in The Christian Family in the Modern World, n.9, notes the important dimension to this achievability: what is required “is a continuous, permanent conversion”.

Within the sacrament of marriage, the marriage act gives full expression to the covenant entered into by husband and wife, the movement towards the total gift of one to the other. In and through this act the husband and wife become one flesh, it is a sign and symbol of the marriage itself, and of the intimate union of Jesus Christ and his Church.


A Primordial Dimension of the Christian Mystery: Service (Diakonia)

The sharing of meals in table fellowship was a fundamental aspect of the mission lifestyle of Jesus. He ate with all classes and groups: tax collectors and sinners, Pharisees, disciples, and his closest friends. Jesus recognised that this table fellowship was a fundamental expression of both his mission and his self‑identity. He was, through table fellowship, proffering salvation to all people. He was giving them already, here and now, through his presence at table, an experience of the eschatological banquet being prepared and now offered by the Father, through the sacrament of his Son, Jesus. The primitive church took up this concern of Jesus for table fellowship, especially expressed in the “breaking of bread” (cf. Acts 2:42-47).

In Lk 22:14-38, Luke’s account of the Last Supper, the theme of food and table fellowship reaches its full expression. The lifestyle of Jesus has been that of serving the food of the Father, the food of salvation, to all people, as expressed in Lk 12:35-38 where in this parable the Master serves the household servants. This serving of the food of the Father brings Jesus to the cross, cf. Lk 15:1-2; 19:7. In this Last Supper account Jesus is seen to be among his disciples as the table servant. This is the expression of the entire life‑style of Jesus. There is no discontinuity between how Jesus has lived and how he now approaches the cross. Jesus’ death is a self‑giving in loving service to the world. Jesus realises the nuptial meaning of the body in its fullness.

Jesus re‑interprets the symbolism of the Passover meal and gives it both a new and profounder meaning, and a new reality. Jesus’ entire life, a life of self‑giving love for others now at the hour of his death becomes the very life bread and wine for his disciples, through his actions at the Passover meal. Robert Karris in Luke: Artist and Theologian (New York: Paulist, 1985), notes that in this action “the Father has dramatised his faithfulness to his promises of feeding a hungry creation and shown what his kingdom really means. As the disciples eat in Jesus’ memory, they trust in the faithful God who has fed his creation in Jesus, is feeding it now in this meal, and will give it definitive life when his kingdom is completely realised” (p.69).

Jesus is the sacrament of the Father. Jesus sees his mission as that of making the Father known and experienced. In this self‑giving of Jesus for the life of the world, we have revealed to us the self‑giving of the Father (Cf. Rm 8:32; Jn 3:16) who out of love for the world and in fidelity to the covenant, sends his Son into the world.

The conclusion to be drawn from the above ‑ the Father feeding his hungry creation in Jesus, and the self‑giving of Jesus in the Passover meal as an expression of the self‑giving of the Father of himself to his creation ‑ is that as we can speak of Jesus as servant, so to we can speak of the Father as servant. The fundamental disposition of the Father, as revealed to us in Jesus, is that of loving service towards his creation.

The Lifestyle of Christian Service

Sandra Schneiders in examining the footwashing of Jn 13:1-20 provides some powerful insights into what Christian service means and calls to conversion toward’s in one’s lifestyle (“The Foot Washing (John 13:1‑20): An Experiment in Hermeneutics”, CBQ, 43(1981)76‑91). She notes that the footwashing in John is analogous in function to the Last Supper accounts in the synoptic gospels (p.81).

She focuses on the relationship in this account between Jesus and Peter. The service of Jesus is one based on friendship. Schneider notes that “friendship is the one human relationship based on equality” (p.86). Service between friends (“no longer do I call you servants…you I have called friends” (Jn 15:15)) becomes a mutual self‑giving in love. It sets up no inequality of demands and debts, and the mutual good of the other becomes the aim and concern of each. Jesus’ menial act of service overturns all claims to privilege and power through social position. “By washing his disciples’ feet Jesus overcomes by love the inequality which existed by nature between himself and those whom he had chosen as friends” (p.87).

Peter is representative of every Christian in his need of conversion and being called to conversion by the example of the service of Jesus. Peter at first refuses because the implications are tremendous. To become a follower of Jesus one must throw aside all human structures of domination ‑ both the security and the complacency of being either the superior or the inferior in such a structure. The example of the service of Jesus calls one to enter into the challenge of living in Christian community in loving, mutual service in which rank is irrelevant. “By the footwashing Jesus has transcended and transformed the only ontologically based inequality among human beings, that between himself and us… implying a radical new order of human relationships” (p.87).

In Lk 10:38-42, the story of Mary and Martha, one of the essential points being made in this story is that all service (diakonia) must be firmly rooted in a relationship with Jesus, and spring from this relationship. This is especially achieved in listening to the word of Jesus. Service to this word is primary.

Baptism: Equality and Co‑responsibility in Service

1 Peter provides an insightful example of an early Christian community’s understanding of service: mutuality of ministry, both informal and formal. (This section is basically from Donald Senior and Carroll Stuhlmueller, The Biblical Foundations for Mission, New York: Orbis, 1983, pp.296‑302).

The letter begins by first establishing the foundation for community: the calling by the Father (1 Pt 1:2), in the power of the Spirit (1 Pt 1:2), through the preaching of the Good News of Jesus Christ (cf. 1 Pt 1:12, 25; 4:6), to baptism (1Pt 1:3) into obedience to Jesus Christ. Baptism gives to each Christian the same dignity and co‑responsibility (cf. 1 Pt 1:14-17). This life of obedience to Jesus is lived out in the unity of community in a bonding of love: “Love one another earnestly from the heart” (1 Pt 1:22). This correlates easily with the loving friendship as the basic attitude expressing Christian service found in the footwashing account of John.

1 Peter gives an image of the community as that of being a spiritual house (1 Pt 2:5). Through baptism, the dignity shared by all Christians is that they, through the death and resurrection of Jesus, are likened to Jesus: “and like living stones be yourself built into a spiritual house” (1 Pt 2:5). Within this spiritual house the dignity of all Christians is that of being built into a “holy priesthood” (1 Pt 2:5). Christians are likened to Jesus in their call to service to the community and to God in this spiritual house, and also, after the example of Jesus, in service to the world. 1 Peter never calls Jesus priest (hiereus), he is seen rather as the victim of the sacrifice (cf. 1 Pt 2:21-25; 4:1). It is with this that the Christian is called to identify with in their lifestyle.

The Christian life in society, lived out in freedom and responsibility, is not lived out in a non‑reflective way. It is lived with an attitude and purpose of witness and mission. It is lived out with the intention that non‑Christian members of society who come in contact with Christians, or who are even aggressive and/or violent towards Christians they have contact with in their everyday living “may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation” (1 Pt 2:12), that is, that they may also, through the witness of the Christians they meet, experience salvation in Jesus Christ. This is the true service proffered to society.

Regarding the attitude and life approach of Christians towards their society, 1 Peter looks at two of the most vulnerable groups of Christians within the society of the Greco‑Roman world: household servants and the wives of non‑Christian husbands. Both groups are encouraged to be “submissive” (1 Pt 2:18; 3:1). Donald Senior notes that hypotasso (submit) is better understood by the word `participate’ (p.310, ftn. 5). This will be a way of proffering God’s salvation, in and through suffering.

This attitude and life approach of participation (hypotasso) gives another nuance to the understanding of the Christian calling to service. A service involving a life attitude of participation in both the Christian community and in the society at large. There should be no dichotomy between life in society and life in the Christian community.

The basis of community is love. Life within the community is one of service. At the basis of this service is the grace of God: “As each has received a gift, employ it for one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace” (1 Pt 4:10). The basis for each receiving a gift to offer in service to one another is that of the Spirit received by all at baptism. The Spirit’s calling and gift is foundational to any ministry with the community. It is the basis of the mutuality of ministry.

The refreshing approach of 1 Peter is that it is only after having established that each and every baptised person in their equality and co‑responsibility, by virtue of their baptism, has received a gift to place oneself at the service of Jesus and the community, that 1 Peter then deals with the service of the “elders”. The image used for the elders is that of being shepherds, with Jesus as the chief Shepherd (cf. 1 Pt 5:1-2). The elders are to serve the community by example. They are warned against a domineering type of exercise of authority.

The same life attitude and approach as of towards each other and towards society, that of participation, is required of the community towards their elders. The word “subject” (1 Pt 5:5) is the same Greek root as hypotasso, and so it carries the connotation of participation also. The relationship of the rest of community with their elders is to be the same as with that of each to the other in the community, and with society: one of humble service (cf. 1 Pt 5:5).

The Formalisation of Service

Thus far it can be concluded that service is fundamental to each and every Christian in their lifestyle. It is part of the calling from God and a gift given through the Spirit at baptism. This fundamental reality of the calling of each Christian to service is lived out within the community.

Basic to every human institution is some form and degree of ordering, which includes expressions of authority and leadership. So too with the Christian community. Schillebeeck (in The Church With A Human Face, New York: Crossroads, 1985) states: “Specialisation by individuals of what belongs communally to everyone is from a sociological perspective and, in the case of a church group, from an ecclesial perspective, an obvious development in any group formation. If there is no specialised concentration of what is important to everyone, in the long run the community suffers as a result” (pp.121/2).

The sociological observation can also be found in the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

1537 The word “order” in Roman antiquity designated an established civil body, especially a governing body. Ordinatio means incorporation into an ordo. In the Church there are established bodies which Tradition, not without a basis in Sacred Scripture, has since ancient times called taxeis (Greek) or ordines. And so the liturgy speaks of the ordo episcoporum, the ordo presbyterorum, the ordo diaconorum. Other groups also receive this name of ordo: catechumens, virgins, spouses, widows,.… (922; 923, 1631) (Catholic Church. (2000). Catechism of the Catholic Church (2nd Ed., p. 384). Washington, DC: United States Catholic Conference)

Importantly the Catechism moves beyond the mere sociological/cultural to that of tradition and revelation:

1538 Integration into one of these bodies in the Church was accomplished by a rite called ordinatio, a religious and liturgical act which was a consecration, a blessing or a sacrament. Today the word “ordination” is reserved for the sacramental act which integrates a man into the order of bishops, presbyters, or deacons, and goes beyond a simple election, designation, delegation, or institution by the community, for it confers a gift of the Holy Spirit that permits the exercise of a “sacred power” (sacra potestas) which can come only from Christ himself through his Church. Ordination is also called consecratio, for it is a setting apart and an investiture by Christ himself for his Church. The laying on of hands by the bishop, with the consecratory prayer, constitutes the visible sign of this ordination. (875; 699) ( Catholic Church. (2000). Catechism of the Catholic Church (2nd Ed., p. 384). Washington, DC: United States Catholic Conference)

The move to be found in the primitive church from varied and charismatic ministry of the many to a concentration and concern in the biblical data with ministries of leadership and authority (authority being used with the emphasis on keeping the community true to the apostolic tradition, leadership being used with the emphasis on maintaining the unity of the community as each individual exercises his or her ministry/service), is a development to be expected according to sociological laws.

It would be naive to see this development as one evolving from a situation of complete charismatic and undifferentiated ministries/services to that of rigid formalisation and uniform specialisation concentrated in the few in the areas of leadership and authority. We find the reality is that even Jesus set up some ordering of leadership and authority with his large group of disciples, such as expressed in the calling of the Twelve, and special place being given to Peter within this concentration of authority and leadership in the Twelve.

There are a diversity of ministries named within the church of the New Testament period: apostles, prophets, teachers, healers, miracle workers, gift of tongues, administrators, evangelists and so forth. There was one ministry that we find existing from the beginning of the church and persisting throughout the New Testament period into the patristic period, it was that of the ministry of overseer or supervisor of the growth and unity of the community and its various ministries: James overseered the Jerusalem church, Paul overseered the many churches he founded and helped established supervisors in these churches, such as Timothy (cf. 2 Tim 1:6-8).

Those who exercised this ministry of leadership and authority were called presbyteroi (elders) and episcopoi (overseers). Their function was not described in any priestly terms in the New Testament period. They were described in terms of their pastoral function, cf. 1 Pet 5:1-5; Heb 13:7, 17; 1 Tim 4:11-16. The New Testament is silent on who actually presided at the Eucharist (“the breaking of the bread”). It is to be reasonably presumed with certitude that the elders and the overseers presided at the Eucharist. This reasonable presumption is based upon the tradition of the church. This tradition was reaffirmed at Vatican II:

Presbyterorum ordinis spells out how the Christian community is built upon, grows from, and hinges upon the celebration of the Eucharist. It also states that out of the Eucharist “all education for the community spirit must begin”, and also out of the Eucharistic celebration flows the Christian calling of works and missionary activity (cf. a.6). The Eucharist is the source and summit of the Christian life and the sign and actualising of the unity of the community and so of the mutuality of the service each Christian is called to and gifted with through baptism. It is to be reasonably assumed that those who presided over (exercised the ministry of leadership and authority) the mutuality of ministries within the community would also naturally preside over the Eucharist because of the essential link between Eucharist and all ministries within the community.

The conferring of the ministries of overseer and elder was through the laying on of hands, cf. Acts 6:1-6; 1 Tim 4:14; 2 Tim 1:6-8.

What is to be noted of interest is that there is no priestly language attached to these ministries during the New Testament period. The reasons for this were the following:

  • the continued attachment of the first communities to Judaism wherein the official priestly cult was still in existence;
  • the vital awareness of the transcendence and uniqueness, and unrepeatability of the death (sacrificial) act of Jesus;
  • biblical threads of the term “priesthood”
    • 1) Levitical, which is ritualistic. The New Testament does not refer to either Jesus or the Christian people, as participating in this type ofpriesthood.
    • 2) Exodus 19:6, which is existential, this is the priesthood of the Christian people referred to in 1 Peter.
  • the Last Supper belonged to a ritual category other than at which the priest presided. It was the meal at which the head of the house presided.

Slowly priestly vocabulary came to be part of the early Christian tradition but at first only being used as a comparison and contrasting with the ritual institutions of the Old Testament, as is found in Hebrews.

Priestly language is used in the early patristics (Didache, Clement, Ignatius) only as analogy between the priesthood of the Old Covenant and the function entrusted to the ministers of the Christian community.

Slowly we do see that these ministries of overseers and elders start to be described in priestly language. The term priest (sacerdos) was at first reserved to the bishop but gradually became extended to the presbyters until in the Middle Ages the terms presbyter (elder) and priest become interchangeable.

J. Tillard in “What Priesthood has the Ministry?”, One In Christ, 9 (1973), 237‑269, raises the important question: How can we account for this transition, this slow evolution?

Priesthood is intrinsically linked with sacrifice. The essential basis to sacrifice is gift. In Jesus there is only one sacrifice and one priest. The Last Supper is the Memorial of this unique and unrenewable sacrifice. In the Passover meal used by Jesus, we have signs and symbols operative. Tillard draws the conclusion: “If historically Jesus has been the one priest of the sacrifice, in the Memorial in which his gestures and their profound significance are rehearsed, it is possible to introduce a reference to his priesthood. His words and gestures, taken up once more by the one presiding, will be perceived as priestly words and gestures. Will not one then be inclined to speak of a priesthood of the minister?” (p.266).This priesthood of the minister is realised to be wholly relative to the unique priestly act of Jesus. The use of Levitical terms to describe this priesthood of the minister can be understood within the Christian understanding of the fulfilment of the Old Testament in Jesus Christ: fulfilment of the Law, the Prophets and of the Old Covenant which includes Levitical ritual.

By the end of the first millennium a change in emphasis is to be noted. There was a change from the overseer or elder maintaining the unity of the community by exercising a leadership and authority role within the mutuality of ministries of the community, and so naturally being the one to preside over the Eucharist, to the ritualistic elements of the priest defining his function as a priest. Priesthood was eventually defined in terms of the power to consecrate the host. The pastoral ministry was still there, in fact it was now the priest who became `the minister’ in the community, while the community took on a much more passive role in regard to ministries. This became described under the term “clericalism“, a term which not only should be used to describe the perceived role of the priest but also the passive role of most of the rest of the community, the consecrated religious being the exception here.

With the Vatican II there is a return to the more balanced position of stating that there should be no dichotomy between the liturgical life of the community and the pastoral life. The bishop or priest is ordained to a leadership and authority role within a community. Basically, with the mutuality of ministries within the community, this means presiding over these various ministries to keep the community true to the apostolic tradition and in the unity of communion. The Eucharist is the source and summit of the Christian life and therefore the bishop/priest presides at the Eucharist in which the assembly celebrates together the Paschal mystery and is strengthened and sustained in its ongoing service/diakonia within the ecclesial community and in the wider society.